Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) have identified several genes linked to human neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury, in the sea lamprey, a vertebrate fish whose whole-genome sequence is reported this week in the journal Nature Genetics.
"This means that we can use the sea lamprey as a powerful model to drive forward our molecular understanding of human neurodegenerative disease and neurological disorders," says Jennifer Morgan of the MBL's Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering. The ultimate goals are to determine what goes wrong with neurons after injury and during disease, and to determine how to correct these deficits in order to restore normal nervous system functions.
Unlike humans, the lamprey has an extraordinary capacity to regenerate its nervous system. If a lamprey's spinal cord is severed, it can regenerate the damaged nerve cells and be swimming again in 10-12 weeks.
Morgan and her collaborators at MBL, Ona Bloom and Joseph Buxbaum, have been studying the lamprey's recovery from spinal cord injury since 2009. The lamprey has large, identified neurons in its brain and spinal cord, making it an excellent model to study regeneration at the single cell-level. Now, the lamprey's genomic information gives them a whole new "toolkit" for understanding its regenerative mechanisms, and for comparing aspects of its physiology, such as inflammation response, to that of humans.
The lamprey genome project was accomplished by a consortium of 59 researchers led by Weiming Li of Michigan State University and Jeramiah Smith of the University of Kentucky. The MBL scientists' contribution focused on neural aspects of the genome, including one of the project's most intriguing findings.
Lampreys, in contrast to humans, don't have myelin, an insulating sheath around neurons that allows faster conduction of nerve impulses. Yet the consortium found genes expressed in the lamprey that are normally expressed in myelin. In humans, myelin-associated molecules inhibit nerves from regenerating if damaged. "A lot of the focus of the spinal cord injury field is on neutralizing those inhibitory molecules," Morgan says.
"So there is an interesting conundrum," Morgan says. "What are these myelin-associated genes doing in an animal that doesn't have myelin, and yet is good at regeneration? It opens up a new and interesting set of questions, " she says. Addressing them could bring insight to why humans lost the capacity for neural regeneration long ago, and how this might be restored.
At present, Morgan and her collaborators are focused on analyzing which genes are expressed and when, after spinal cord injury and regeneration. The whole-genome sequence gives them an invaluable reference for their work.
Morgan, Bloom, and Buxbaum collaborate at the MBL through funding by the Charles Evans Foundation. Bloom is based at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research/Hofstra North Shore-Long Island Jewish in New York. Buxbaum is from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Smith JJ et al (2013) Sequencing of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) genome provides insight into vertebrate evolution. Nature Genetics: DOI: 10.1038/ng.2568
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation. A corps of more than 270 scientists and support personnel pursue research year-round at the MBL, joined each year by more than 400 visiting scientists, summer staff, and research associates from hundreds of institutions around the world. Among the scientists with a significant affiliation with the MBL are 55 Nobel Laureates (since 1929).
Diana Kenney | EurekAlert!
HKUST researchers discover ways to regenerate corticospinal tract axons
06.07.2015 | Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Southampton researchers go with the flow to help protect endangered European eel
06.07.2015 | University of Southampton
Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.
The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...
New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions
A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...
Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and a half billion years ago.
Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and...
A team of scientists including PhD student Friedrich Schuler from the Laboratory of MEMS Applications at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of...
The three-year clinical trial results of the retinal implant popularly known as the "bionic eye," have proven the long-term efficacy, safety and reliability of...
25.06.2015 | Event News
16.06.2015 | Event News
11.06.2015 | Event News
06.07.2015 | Press release
06.07.2015 | Physics and Astronomy
06.07.2015 | Life Sciences