Everything from the ability to concentrate, perceive and learn to debilitating illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress syndrome and schizophrenia is influenced by the number of receptors on nerve cells. The more receptors each cell has at its communication points, or synapses, the better that messages are carried through the brain.
A UIC research team led by David Featherstone, assistant professor of biological sciences, has discovered that receptor numbers are controlled by the brain's level of glutamate. But it is not the same glutamate that most neuroscientists think about -- the neurotransmitter that moves in message packets across the synapse. Instead, it is what Featherstone calls ambient extracellular glutamate, which just floats around the nervous system and has generally been ignored because no one knew where it came from or what it was doing.
For years, scientists failed to identify glutamate as a key neurotransmitter precisely because there was so much of it.
"It made no sense," said Featherstone. "People figured you couldn't use glutamate to send messages because there was too much glutamate background noise in the brain. It turns out that this background noise plays an important part in regulating information transfer."
Featherstone and his lab team found that glia cells are the source of the excess ambient glutamate. Along with neurons, these poorly understood "support" cells fill the brain.
The team discovered proteins in fruit fly glia cells that regulate the amount of ambient glutamate in the brain. Called xCT transporter proteins, they pump glutamate out of glia cells.
"When we mutate the protein, we get less ambient extracellular glutamate, more glutamate receptors, and so a stronger transfer of messages at synapses," Featherstone said.
The gene mutation also made the flies bisexual, leading him to name the gene "genderblind."
"The mutants are completely bisexual, but fertile. It's the first gene that really specifically affects homosexual behavior without affecting heterosexual behavior," he said.
"Trying to understand fly bisexuality sounds silly, but these behavioral changes are important evidence that ambient extracellular glutamate and xCT transport proteins play important, unsuspected roles in brain function," Featherstone said. "We think we'll be able to learn a lot about perception and development from figuring out exactly what's happening in these flies.
"It's amazing how many biomedical breakthroughs have come from crazy directions."
Paul Francuch | EurekAlert!
Embryonic development: How do limbs develop from cells?
18.05.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Reading histone modifications, an oncoprotein is modified in return
18.05.2018 | American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology