This finding is crucial to understanding and treating a range of conditions involving nerve cell loss or damage, from spinal cord injury to neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Nerve cell regeneration is a complex process. Not only do nerve cells have to regenerate, but just as importantly, their specific and individual connections need to be regenerated also. The study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides invaluable insight into these vital processes by understanding the mechanisms involved in normal development of selected types of spinal cord motor nerve cells.
Motor neurons are highly specialized. They have distinct characteristics and connect to specific muscle types in specific regions of the body. “These highly targeted nerve cell-to-muscle connections are determined in part by specific patterns of gene expression during embryonic development. More specifically, certain genes are expressed which tell the neuron what its properties will be, where to settle and which particular muscle to connect with,” says Dr. Stefano Stifani, neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and lead investigator in the study.
When nerve cells develop they require characteristic patterns of gene expression in order to become motor neurons or another type of nerve cell called interneurons. Dr. Stifani and colleagues show that during development, motor nerve cells have to express certain genes that continually suppress interneuron developmental characteristics.
“We have identified a key factor, called Runx1, which controls the correct development of motor neurons in the upper part of the spinal cord. Runx1, a factor that controls gene expression, helps motor neurons to maintain their status by regulating the expression of specific genes. In doing so, it might also help motor neurons find their target muscles.”
Understanding the normal development and the highly specialized nature of nerve cells has important implications for understanding diseased or damaged nerve cells. For example, in ALS, the motor nerve cells that are involved in swallowing and controlling the tongue are often the first to degenerate. Knowing the specific patterns of gene expression of different motor nerve cells may help to explain why certain motor neurons are more susceptible to degeneration and help identify new targets for treatments.
This study can be viewed at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/105/17/6451. It was funded by the Neuromuscular Research Partnership, an initiative of ALS Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
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The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
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