The study appears in the October issue of the journal of Molecular Endocrinology.
In the U.S., 1,000 to 2,000 children are born with anencephaly each year. Most do not survive more than a day or two. Although anencephaly can sometimes be diagnosed through ultrasound, which picks up the malformation of the head, there is no genetic test, and its cause is unknown.
By breeding special "knockout" mice that were missing the gene for the enzyme called HSD17b7, UIC researchers found that such mice died on the tenth day of gestation with the severe lack of brain development that characterizes the human birth defect.
The failure of the mice to develop, as well as the extreme nature of the changes in the formation of the animals, was very surprising, said Geula Gibori, UIC distinguished professor of physiology and biophysics and principal investigator of the study. Mice that lack enzymes of similar function are born with subtle changes in their cognitive ability, but they survive.
The UIC researchers had previously discovered this novel enzyme and were focused on its role in converting the weak hormone estrogen into the more potent estradiol in the ovaries and its possible role in breast cancer.
Recent research has shown that the HSD17b7 enzyme has an additional role in the last steps of cholesterol biosynthesis. But because the fetus receives cholesterol from the mother during gestation, Gibori and her colleagues did not expect the enzyme to be of much importance to development, she said.
However, it appears that as the fetal mouse brain develops it forms a blood barrier, blocking maternal cholesterol from brain cells. The brain becomes dependent on the biosynthesis of its own cholesterol once this blood-brain barrier forms, at day 10 of gestation.
The UIC researchers established that in the fetus, the brain is the most important site for HSD17b7 expression and provided evidence that anencephaly may result from the loss of this enzyme.
"Creating a knockout mouse is a very laborious process," said Aurora Shehu, first author of the paper and at that time a graduate student in Gibori's laboratory. Mice with only one copy of the gene are produced and then interbred; one in four of their offspring should have no copy of the gene -- a "null" mouse.
"We expected null mice to be born and to be infertile, however, no null mice were born," said Shehu. "I was afraid I had made a mistake, and went back to the beginning, repeating the entire process, but still no null mice were born."
Shehu then began more painstaking work, performing in-utero genetic testing on entire litters -- often 10 to 12 fetuses per litter. She found that the null mice were there, but they were dying at day 10 of gestation, when the blood-brain barrier develops.
Gibori says the gene that is missing or defective in human anencephaly is not yet known, but the discovery that the deletion of HSD17b7 in the mouse causes anencephaly suggests this gene may be awry in the human disease.
"This opens up very exciting possibilities for understanding human anencephaly, and, perhaps, someday being able to provide a genetic test for the condition early in pregnancy -- and ultimately a therapy," she said.
As their next step, Gibori's lab plans to test human anencephalic tissue for a mutation in the HSD17b7 gene.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Jifang Mao, Gil B. Gibori, Julia Halperin, Jamie Le, Y. Sangeeta Devi and Bradley Merrill of the UIC College of Medicine and Hiroaki Kiyokawa of Northwestern University also contributed to the study.
Jeanne Galatzer-Levy | Newswise Science News
Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie
Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy