Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Power up: growing neurons undergo major metabolic shift


Our brains can survive only for a few minutes without oxygen. Salk Institute researchers have now identified the timing of a dramatic metabolic shift in developing neurons, which makes them become dependent on oxygen as a source of energy.

The findings, published July 12 in the journal eLife reveal a metabolic route thought to go awry in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Salk Institute researchers have now identified the timing of a dramatic metabolic shift in developing neurons, which makes them become dependent on oxygen as a source of energy. A key metabolic pathway must be switched off during neuron development, or else -- as is shown on the right -- fewer neurons (green) survive. The red cells are non-neural cells called glia.

Credit: Salk Institute

"There is relatively little understanding about how neuron metabolism is first established," says co-senior author Tony Hunter, holder of the Renato Dulbecco Chair and American Cancer Society Professor in Salk's Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. "Aside from enabling us to understand this process during neuronal development, the work also allows us to better understand neurodegenerative disease."

To send messages along neurons is energetically demanding, and the brain uses both oxygen and glucose intensely. The brain, for example, uses 20 percent of the body's glucose supply. The cell's energy-producing factories, called mitochondria, are scattered throughout the long, slender axons of neurons in order to provide all parts of the cell with a constant supply of energy. As the neurons get bigger, so do the number of mitochondria, according to the new study.

We make new neurons in the womb, and this process continues after birth. Even a few areas in the adult brain continue to make new neurons throughout life. "We assume that the metabolic shift we describe in this new study happens every time a progenitor cell turns into a neuron," says the study's first author Xinde Zheng, a Salk research associate.

The cells that eventually become neurons initially use a pathway called glycolysis, which is a major energy-producing process that takes place in the cytoplasm of the cell and turns glucose into energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). At some point, however, the cells switch to a more efficient pathway called oxidative phosphorylation, a process that uses oxygen to produce ATP and occurs inside the mitochondria.

Hunter, Zheng, Salk's Leah Boyer and colleagues previously studied a rare metabolic disease called Leigh syndrome and recently published work showing that less ATP is produced in afflicted neurons. In the process of understanding that disease, they needed to recreate it in a dish, using cells with mutations in the DNA contained within mitochondria. But the team realized that it was not well understood how normally dividing cells generate energy while they divide and differentiate into new cell types.

In the new study, Hunter's team found that as a neuron precursor cell becomes a neuron, genes coding for key metabolic enzymes used in glycolysis switch off their expression,. Those changes work hand in hand to shut down glycolysis. All the while, key regulators of oxidative phosphorylation are ramping up.

Most surprising is that developing neurons must completely shut down glycolysis, says Hunter. When the researchers prevented that from happening, the neurons quickly died.

"This is the first comprehensive analysis of metabolic changes during neuronal differentiation, and the surprising reliance of neurons on oxidative phosphorylation for their sole energy source has clear implications for neuronal vulnerability with age," says co-senior investigator Rusty Gage, a professor in Salk's Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The group plans to look more closely at how the metabolic genes are controlled in developing cells. They also plan to study neurons harboring energy defects associated with disease, such as Parkinson's disease, and different types of neurons to compare any finer differences in metabolism.


Other authors on the study are Mingji Jin, Jerome Mertens, Yongsung Kim, Li Ma, Li Ma, and Michael Hamm, all of the Salk Institute.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Annette Merle-Smith, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and the Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk's mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer's, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin. Learn more at:

Media Contact

Salk Communications


Salk Communications | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>