Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Missing protein may be key to autism

05.12.2007
A missing brain protein may be one of the culprits behind autism and other brain disorders, researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory report in the Dec. 6 issue of Neuron.
The protein helps synapses develop. Synapses--through which neurons communicate with one other-underlie our ability to learn and remember. Now Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, has uncovered an enzyme that is key to that protein's activity.

Synapses are complex structures consisting of ion channels, receptors and intricate protein complexes that all work together to send and receive signals. Improperly formed synapses could lead to mental retardation, and mutations in genes encoding certain synaptic proteins are associated with autism.

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.

... more about:
»Autism »CASK »Cdk5 »Key »Picower »Synapse »Tsai

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

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/www
http://www.mit.edu

Further reports about: Autism CASK Cdk5 Key Picower Synapse Tsai

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing in on advanced prostate cancer
13.12.2017 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)

nachricht Visualizing single molecules in whole cells with a new spin
13.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>