Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Complex wiring of the nervous system may rely on a just a handful of genes and proteins

13.02.2012
Discovery provides clues to development of neurological diseases and cancer

Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a startling feature of early brain development that helps to explain how complex neuron wiring patterns are programmed using just a handful of critical genes.

The findings, published February 3 in Cell, may help scientists develop new therapies for neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and provide insight into certain cancers.

The Salk researchers discovered that only a few proteins on the leading edge of a motor neuron's axon - its outgoing electrical "wire" - and within the extracellular soup it travels through guide the nerve as it emerges from the spinal cord. These molecules can attract or repel the axon, depending on the long and winding path it must take to finally connect with its target muscle.

"The budding neuron has to detect the local environment it is growing through and decide where it is, and whether to grow straight, move to the left or right, or stop," says the study's senior investigator, Sam Pfaff, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

"It does this by mixing and matching just a handful of protein products to create complexes that tell a growing neuron which way to go, in the same way that a car uses the GPS signals it receives to guide it through an unfamiliar city," he says.

The brain contains millions of times the number of neuron connections than the number of genes found in the DNA of brain cells. This is one of the first studies to try and understand how a growing neuron integrates many different pieces of information in order to navigate to its eventual target and make a functional connection.

"We focused on motor neurons that control muscle movements, but the same kind of thing is going on throughout embryonic development of the entire nervous system, during which millions of axons make trillions of decisions as they move to their targets," he says. "It is the exquisite specificity with which they grow that underlies the basic architecture and proper function of the nervous system."

These findings might eventually shed new light on a number of clinical disorders related to faulty nerve cell functioning, such as ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, says the first author on the paper, Dario Bonanomi, a post-doctoral researcher in Pfaff's laboratory.

"These are the motor neurons that die in diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease and that are linked to a genetic disorder in children known as spinal muscle atrophy," Bonanomi says.

"It is also a jumping off point to try and understand the basis for defects that might arise during fetal development of the nervous system," he added. "A better understanding of those signals might help to be able to regenerate and rewire circuits following diseases or injuries of the nervous system."

The researchers say the study also offers insights into cancer development, because a protein the researchers found to be crucial to the "push and pull" signaling system - Ret- is also linked to cancer. Mutations that activate Ret are linked to a number of different kinds of tumors.

The other protein receptors described in the study, known as Ephs, have also been implicated in cancer, Pfaff says.

"This study suggests that the way cells detect signals in their environment is likely a universal strategy," he says, "and we know that genes and proteins known to function primarily during embryonic development have been linked to cancer."

"Controlling neuronal growth requires very potent signaling molecules, and it makes sense they would be linked to disease," Pfaff says. "We hope our findings help further unravel these connections."

The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Co-authors include, from Salk, Onanong Chivatakar, Ge Bai, and Karen Lettieri; Houari Abdesselem and Brian A. Pierchala, from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry; and Till Marquardt, from the European Neuroscience Institute-Göttingen, in Germany.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Andy Hoang | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.salk.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists enlist engineered protein to battle the MERS virus
22.05.2017 | University of Toronto

nachricht Insight into enzyme's 3-D structure could cut biofuel costs
19.05.2017 | DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

Im Focus: Bacteria harness the lotus effect to protect themselves

Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties

Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...

Im Focus: Hydrogen Bonds Directly Detected for the First Time

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the strength of hydrogen bonds in a single molecule using an atomic force microscope. Researchers from the University of Basel’s Swiss Nanoscience Institute network have reported the results in the journal Science Advances.

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is an integral part of almost all organic compounds. Molecules and sections of macromolecules are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

Media accreditation opens for historic year at European Health Forum Gastein

16.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New approach to revolutionize the production of molecular hydrogen

22.05.2017 | Materials Sciences

Scientists enlist engineered protein to battle the MERS virus

22.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Experts explain origins of topographic relief on Earth, Mars and Titan

22.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>