Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How nerve cells grow

19.02.2010
Göttingen-based Max Planck researcher decodes a molecular process that controls the growth of nerve cells

Brain researcher Hiroshi Kawabe has discovered the workings of a process that had been completely overlooked until now, and that allows nerve cells in the brain to grow and form complex networks. The study, which has now been published in the journal Neuron, shows that an enzyme which usually controls the destruction of protein components has an unexpected function in nerve cells: it controls the structure of the cytoskeleton and thus ensures that nerve cells can form the tree-like extensions that are necessary for signal transmission in the brain. (Neuron, February 11, 2010)


In the brain of mice, which cannot produce Nedd4-1, the extensions of nerve cells are shorter and of much simpler construction (example top) than in the brain of normal mice (example bottom). Image: Hiroshi Kawabe

In order to be able to receive signals from other cells, nerve cells form complex extensions called dendrites (from the Greek ‘dendron’ meaning tree). The growth of dendrites in the human brain takes place mainly during late embryonic and infantile brain development. During this phase, dendrites, with a total length of many hundred kilometres, grow from the 100 billion nerve cells in our brain. The result is a highly-complex network of nerve cells that controls all bodily functions - from breathing to complicated learning processes.

In order that this incredible growth phase of brain development does not lead to chaos, the growth of the dendrites must be accurately controlled. In fact, a large number of signal processes control the direction and the speed of dendrite growth by influencing the structure of the cytoskeleton, which is inside the growing dendrite and responsible for its shape and extension.

The Göttingen-based brain researcher Hiroshi Kawabe has now discovered exactly how the growth of the cytoskeleton is controlled during the dendrite development. Using specially bred genetically engineered mice, the Japanese guest scientist, who conducts research at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, discovered that the Nedd4-1 enzyme is essential for regular dendrite growth. Nedd4-1 is an enzyme that usually controls the degradation of protein components in cells by combining them with another protein called ubiquitin. The cell identifies these ubiquitinated molecules as "waste" and degrades them. In some cases, however, the ubiquitination does not lead to the degradation of the marked protein but changes its function instead.

Nedd4-1 prevents degradation of the cytoskeleton

Hiroshi Kawabe has now shown that the Nedd4-1 enzyme ubiquitinates a signal protein called Rap2, and thus prevents it causing the dismemberment of the cytoskeleton and the collapse of the dendrites. "As long as Nedd4-1 is active, the nerve cell dendrites can grow normally," reports Kawabe. "In its absence, the dendrite growth comes to a standstill and previously formed dendrites collapse, with dramatic consequences for the function of nerve cell networks in the brain." There are, however, probably a number of parallel operating signal paths which control the dendrite growth. This explains why nerve cells can also form dendrites without Nedd4-1 - albeit significantly fewer in number and shorter. The Nedd4/Rap2/TNIK mechanism would then be only one of several that can partially compensate each other.

Kawabe's discovery provides important new insight into the mechanisms which control the development of the brain. "What is surprising is that no-one has investigated this before," says the Japanese biochemist. Scientists have long been aware that Nedd4-1 is one of the most prevalent ubiquitination enzymes in nerve cells and is produced with great frequency in the developmental phase when nerve cells grow and form their dendrites. As Kawabe points out, the function of Nedd4-1 has already been investigated in dozens of studies. "But very little work has been carried out on its role in nerve cell development, which would have been the obvious thing to do."

Original work:

Kawabe, H., Neeb, A., Dimova, K., Young, S.M.Jr. Takeda, M., Katsurabayashi, S., Mitkovski, M., Malakhova, O.A., Zhang, D.-E., Umikawa, M., Kariya, K., Goebbels, S., Nave, K.-A., Rosenmund, C., Jahn, O., Rhee, J.-S. and Brose, N.
Regulation of Rap2A by the ubiquitin ligase Nedd4-1 controls neurite development in cortical neurons.

Neuron 65, 358-372 (2010)

Contact:

Dr. Hiroshi Kawabe
Max-Planck-Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen
Tel.: +49 (0)551 / 3899 720
E-mail: kawabe@em.mpg.de

Barbara Abrell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de/english/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception
25.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik

nachricht Studying a catalyst for blood cancers
25.04.2017 | University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

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...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

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...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Warm winds: New insight into what weakens Antarctic ice shelves

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>