Tsai studies a kinase (kinases are enzymes that change proteins) called Cdk5. While Cdk5's best-known role is to help new neurons form and migrate to their correct positions during brain development, "emerging evidence supports an important role for Cdk5 at the synapse," she said.
To gain a better understanding of how Cdk5 promotes synapse formation, Tsai's lab looked into how Cdk5 interacts with synapse-inducing proteins-in particular, a protein called CASK. CASK--a key scaffolding protein-is one of the first proteins on the scene of a developing synapse.
Scaffolding proteins such as CASK are like site managers, supporting protein-to-protein interactions to ensure that the resulting architecture is sound. Mutations in the genes responsible for Cdk5 and CASK have been found in mental retardation patients.
"We found that Cdk5 is critical for recruiting CASK to do its job for developing synapses," Tsai said. "Without Cdk5, CASK was not in the right place at the right time, and failed to interact with essential presynaptic components. This, in turn, led to problems with calcium influx." The flow of calcium in and out of neurons affects processes central to nervous system development and plasticity--its ability to change in response to experience.
Gene mutations and/or deletions in synaptic cell surface proteins and molecules called neurexins and neuroligins have been associated with autism. The problem with CASK recruitment investigated by the Tsai laboratory creates the same result as these genetic changes.
The Picower study also provides the first molecular explanation of how Cdk5, which also may go awry in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, promotes synapse development.
"There are still a lot of unknowns," said Tsai, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Causes for psychiatric disorders are still very unclear, but accumulating evidence strongly suggests that alterations in the synaptogenesis program can lead to these serious diseases."
In addition to Tsai and Picower researcher Benjamin A. Samuels, co-authors are associated with Harvard Medical School; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.; and Academia Sinica in Taiwan.
This work is supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Written by Debbie Halber, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT
In living color: Brightly-colored bacteria could be used to 'grow' paints and coatings
20.02.2018 | University of Cambridge
Computers aid discovery of new, inexpensive material to make LEDs with high color quality
20.02.2018 | University of California - San Diego
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
20.02.2018 | Life Sciences
20.02.2018 | Life Sciences
20.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy