Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tiny RNA molecules fine-tune the brain’s synapses


A new mechanism for regulating brain function

Non-coding regions of the genome – those that don’t code for proteins – are now known to include important elements that regulate gene activity. Among those elements are microRNAs, tiny, recently discovered RNA molecules that suppress gene expression.

Increasing evidence indicates a role for microRNAs in the developing nervous system, and researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston now demonstrate that one microRNA affects the development of synapses – the points of communication between brain cells that underlie learning and memory. The findings appear in the January 19th issue of Nature.

"This paper provides the first evidence that microRNAs have a role at the synapse, allowing for a new level of regulation of gene expression," says senior author Michael Greenberg, PhD, Director of Neuroscience at Children’s Hospital Boston. "What we’ve found is a new mechanism for regulating brain function."

The brain’s ability to form and refine synapses allows organisms to learn and respond to their environment, strengthening important synaptic connections, forming new ones, and allowing unimportant ones to weaken. Experiments in Greenberg’s lab, done in rats, showed that a microRNA called miR-134 regulates the size of dendritic spines, the protrusions from a neuron’s dendrites where synapses form. When neurons were exposed to miR-134, spine volume significantly decreased, weakening the synapse. When miR-134 was inhibited, spines increased in size, strengthening the synapse.

Further experiments showed that miR-134 acts by inhibiting expression of a gene called Limk1, which causes dendritic spines to grow. When neurons were exposed to a growth factor known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), this inhibition was overcome and Limk1 became active again, enhancing spine growth.

Greenberg believes that miR-134 – and other microRNAs his lab is studying – may play a role in fine-tuning cognitive function by selectively controlling synapse development in response to environmental stimuli. "A single neuron can form a thousand synapses," says Greenberg, also a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. "If you could selectively control what’s happening at one synapse without affecting another, you greatly increase the information storage and computational capacity of the brain."

Greenberg also speculates that miR-134 may be relevant to disorders such as mental retardation and autism. He notes that loss of Limk1 due to a chromosomal deletion is associated with Williams syndrome, and that the BDNF pathway that activates Limk1 includes proteins that are disabled in tuberous sclerosis and Fragile X syndrome. All three genetic disorders can cause cognitive impairment and autistic-like behaviors.

Bess Andrews | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When fat cells change their colour
28.10.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Aquaculture: Clear Water Thanks to Cork
28.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

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...

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

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>