Johns Hopkins researchers report that once a growing nerve "tastes" a certain protein, it loses its "appetite" for other proteins and follows the tasty crumbs to reach its final destination. The finding in mice, reported in the July 23 issue of Cell, appears to help explain how nerves connect to their targets and stop growing once there, a process important for the normal development of mouse and man.
During prenatal development, a nerve connects to its proper targets in part by obeying protein signals sampled en route. If the signals arent right or arent found, the growing nerve can connect to the wrong organ or not connect at all.
In experiments on mice, the Hopkins scientists learned that a protein called NT-3 (neurotrophin-3), produced and distributed at the halfway point, and one called NGF (nerve growth factor), which is expressed at the target organ, both attract the growing ends of a certain type of nerve cell. However, the Hopkins team found that only NGF can convince the nerve that it "tastes better," an ability that allows the nerve to leave the halfway point, grow to the source of NGF and then stay put.
Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
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