Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Copper helps brain function — could tweaking circuits make us smarter?

26.09.2006
The flow of copper in the brain has a previously unrecognized role in cell death, learning and memory, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The researchers' findings suggest that copper and its transporter, a protein called Atp7a, are vital to human thinking. They speculate that variations in the genes coding for Atp7a, as well as other proteins of copper homeostasis, could partially account for differences in thinking among individuals.

Using rat and mouse nerve cells to study the role of copper in the brain, the researchers found that the Atp7a protein shuttles copper to neural synapses, the junctions that allow nerves to talk to one another.

At synapses, the metal ions affect important components responsible for making neural connections stronger or weaker. The changing strength of neural connections — called synaptic plasticity — accounts for, among other things, our ability to remember and learn.

... more about:
»Atp7a »NMDA »Receptors »nerve cells »synapses

"Why don't we think a hundred times better than we do?" asks senior author Jonathan Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. "One answer to that question is, perhaps we could — if the brain could make the right connections. We've found that copper modulates very critical events within the central nervous system that influence how well we think."

The research was led by neuroscience graduate students Michelle Schlief, Ph.D., and Tim West, Ph.D., in collaboration with Anne Marie Craig, Ph.D., and David M. Holtzman, M.D., the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology and appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found that when a chemical signal, or neurotransmitter, hits one of the microscopic antennas present at nerve synapses, Atp7a reacts and quickly brings copper ions from their storage areas within nerve cells to the cell surface.

When released into neural synapses, the copper damps down the activity of these antennas, called NMDA receptors. The activity of NMDA receptors determines how strong the connections between nerves cells are and changes in the receptors' activity are critical to cell survival, learning and memory.

"In the brain, some neurons have strong connections, and some have weak connections, but this is changing all the time," says Gitlin, who is also director of genetics and genomic medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital and scientific director of the Children's Discovery Institute. "The plasticity of the connections between neurons is important for nerve cell survival and for our ability to think the way we do. The NMDA receptors are a large component of this process, and we've found that Atp7a and copper are key factors controlling them."

Since the Atp7a protein is responsible for moving copper in nerves, variations in the gene for Atp7a could influence copper flow in the nervous system and the function of NMDA receptors.

The researchers' findings stem from earlier research on the rare neurodegenerative disorder Menkes disease, which results from an abnormal Atp7a gene. The loss of properly functioning Atp7a protein in Menkes patients leads to impairment of copper distribution in the body. Children born with the disease have intractable seizures and mental retardation and seldom live beyond the age of ten.

The current research showed that in mouse nerve cells that lacked Atp7a and so were not able to bring copper to synapses, the resulting high activity of NMDA receptors caused excitotoxic cell death, a process that kills nerve cells that have been overstimulated. This suggests that in the brains of people with Menkes, NMDA receptors, no longer appropriately modulated by copper, may kill important neurons and cause neuronal degeneration.

Pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that inhibit excitotoxic nerve cell death, and Gitlin thinks, in light of these new findings, such compounds may someday lead to an effective treatment for Menkes disease.

To find out more about how copper and Atp7a influence thinking, the researchers next plan to breed laboratory mice in which they can selectively knock out Atp7a in the hippocampus, an area of the brain essential to memory. Then they can investigate whether these mice have problems performing tasks they had once learned.

Gwen Ericson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

Further reports about: Atp7a NMDA Receptors nerve cells synapses

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH

nachricht Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>