Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Neurons grown from skin cells may hold clues to autism

28.11.2011
Rare syndrome's workings could help explain how brain wiring goes awry -- NIH-funded study

Potential clues to how autism miswires the brain are emerging from a study of a rare, purely genetic form of the disorders that affects fewer than 20 people worldwide.


Representative iPSC-derived neurons from Timothy syndrome patient (bottom) shows increased numbers of neurons that produce the chemical messengers norepinephrine and dopamine, compared to those from a control subject (top). Credit: Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., Stanford University

Using cutting-edge "disease-in a-dish" technology, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have grown patients' skin cells into neurons to discover what goes wrong in the brain in Timothy Syndrome. Affected children often show symptoms of autism spectrum disorders along with a constellation of physical problems.

Abnormalities included changes in the composition of cells in the cortex, the largest brain structure in humans, and of neurons that secrete two key chemical messengers. Neurons that make long-distance connections between the brain's hemispheres tended to be in short supply.

Most patients with Timothy Syndrome meet diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder. Yet, unlike most cases of autism, Timothy syndrome is known to be caused by a single genetic mutation.

"Studying the consequences of a single mutation, compared to multiple genes with small effects, vastly simplifies the task of pinpointing causal mechanisms," explained Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., of Stanford University, a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grantee who led the study. His work was partially funded by a NIH Director's Pioneer Award.

Dolmetsch, and colleagues, report on their findings Nov. 27, 2011 in the journal Nature Medicine.

"Unlike animal research, the cutting-edge technology employed in this study makes it possible to pinpoint molecular defects in a patient's own brain cells," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "It also offers a way to screen more rapidly for medications that act on the disordered process."

Prior to the current study, researchers knew that Timothy syndrome is caused by a tiny glitch in the gene that codes for a calcium channel protein in cell membranes. The mutation results in too much calcium entering cells, causing a tell-tale set of abnormalities throughout the body. Proper functioning of the calcium channel is known to be particularly critical for proper heart rhythm – many patients die in childhood of arrhythmias – but its role in brain cells was less well understood.

To learn more, Dolmetsch and colleagues used a new technology called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). They first converted skin cells from Timothy Syndrome patients into stem cells and then coaxed these to differentiate into neurons.

"Remarkable reproducibility" observed across multiple iPSC lines and individuals confirmed that the technique can reveal defects in neuronal differentiation – such as whether cells assume the correct identity as the brain gets wired-up in early development, said the researchers. Compared to those from controls, fewer neurons from Timothy Syndrome patients became neurons of the lower layers of the cortex and more became upper layer neurons. The lower layer cells that remained were more likely to be the kind that project to areas below the cortex. In contrast, there were fewer-than-normal neurons equipped to form a structure, called the corpus callosum, which makes possible communications between the left and right hemispheres.

Many of these defects were also seen in parallel studies of mice with the same genetic mutation found in Timothy syndrome patients. This supports the link between the mutation and the developmental abnormalities.

Several genes previously implicated in autism were among hundreds found to be expressed abnormally in Timothy Syndrome neurons. Excess cellular calcium levels also caused an overproduction of neurons that make key chemical messengers. Timothy Syndrome neurons secreted 3.5 times more norepinephrine and 2.3 times more dopamine than control neurons. Addition of a drug that blocks the calcium channel reversed the abnormalities in cultured neurons, reducing the proportion of catecholamine-secreting cells by 68 percent.

The findings in Timothy Syndrome patient iPSCs follow those in Rett Syndrome, another single gene disorder that often includes autism-like symptoms. About a year ago, Alysson Muotri, Ph.D., and colleagues at University of California, San Diego, reported deficits in the protrusions of neurons, called spines, that help form connections, or synapses. The Dolmetsch team's discovery of earlier (neuronal fate) and later (altered connectivity) defects suggest that disorders on the autism spectrum affect multiple stages in early brain development.

"Most of these abnormalities are consistent with other emerging evidence that ASDs arise from defects in connectivity between cortex areas and show decreased size of the corpus callosum," said Dolmetsch. "Our study reveals how these might be traceable to specific mechanisms set in motion by poor regulation of cellular calcium. It also demonstrates that neurons derived from iPSCs can be used to identify the cellular basis of a neurodevelopmental disorder."

The mechanisms identified in this study may become potential targets for developing new therapies for Timothy Syndrome and may also provide insights into the neural basis of deficits in other forms of autism, said Dolmetsch.

Reference
Using iPS cell-derived neurons to uncover cellular phenotypes associated with Timothy Syndrome. Pasca SP, Portmann T, Voineagu I, Yazawa M, Shcheglovitov O, Pasca AM, Cord B, Palmer TD, Chikahisa S, Seiji N, Bernstein JA, Hallmayer J, Geschwind DH, Dolmetsch RE. November 27, 2011. Nature Medicine.

Jules Asher | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nih.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells
22.02.2017 | Brigham and Women's Hospital

nachricht New insights into the information processing of motor neurons
22.02.2017 | Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microhotplates for a smart gas sensor

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>