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New Understanding of Protein’s Role in Brain

29.03.2010
How do we process thoughts and store memories? A team of researchers headed by Dr. Nahum Sonenberg of McGill’s Department of Biochemistry and Goodman Cancer Centre has discovered that brains in mammals modify a particular protein in a unique way, which alters the protein’s normal function. This discovery represents an important step in understanding how our brains work.

When our memories are being formed, nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with each other through electrical impulses at specialized connections. To strengthen these connections, the neurons require new proteins – key molecules needed for all forms of cellular activity. The protein in question, 4E-BP2, controls the process of producing new proteins in the nervous system.

This process, known as protein synthesis or translation, is the major focus of research in Sonenberg’s laboratory. Before the team’s discovery, no one knew 4E-BP2 could be chemically altered in such a manner as the team described in its work, much less that this could have an effect on neuron function.

According to the lead researcher Dr. Michael Bidinosti, a recent graduate from Sonenberg’s laboratory, “we found a modification to a protein that controls the cellular protein-synthesis machinery. This modification seems to affect the ability of nerve cells to communicate with each other and is thought to be part of the processes underlying memory.”

He explains that study of protein synthesis and of memory are increasingly converging fields, and that the team’s research is an important achievement in this arena. Collaboration was critical to the discovery as the team includes researchers from the Université de Montréal, the Montreal Neurological Institute, the University of Toronto, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the University of Bergen in Norway.

“Better understanding of protein synthesis in the brain is crucial to the advancement of neuroscience, particularly as researchers discover that altered proteins may have a direct impact on the memory process,” says Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction. “CIHR hopes that these new findings will lead to more research aimed at ultimately solving memory loss issues.”

The research was published in the journal Molecular Cell on March 25, 2010, and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Bidinosti was supported by a Postgraduate Doctoral Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

On the Web: www.medicine.mcgill.ca/nahum/

French version:
Vers une meilleure compréhension du fonctionnement du cerveau
Des chercheurs découvrent le rôle clé d’une certaine protéine dans le processus mnémonique

Comment protégeons-nous la pensée et enregistrons-nous les souvenirs? Sous la direction de Nahum Sonenberg, professeur au Département de biochimie de l’Université McGill et rattaché au Centre de recherche sur le cancer Goodman, une équipe de chercheurs a découvert que le cerveau des mammifères modifie une protéine particulière d’une façon unique, ce qui, en retour, transforme la fonction normale du cerveau. Cette découverte représente une étape importante quant à la compréhension du fonctionnement du cerveau.

Au cours de la formation des souvenirs, les cellules nerveuses – ou neurones – communiquent les unes avec les autres par le biais d’impulsions électriques à un embranchement ciblé. Pour consolider ces embranchements, les neurones doivent puiser dans de nouvelles protéines : des molécules clés nécessaires à la formation de toute activité cellulaire. La protéine en question, 4E-BP2, contrôle le processus permettant la production de nouvelles protéines dans le système nerveux.

Connu sous le nom de protéinogénèse ou de traduction protéique, ce processus est le principal point d’intérêt des travaux de recherche menés par l’équipe du professeur Sonenberg. Avant cette découverte, nul ne savait que le gène 4E-BP2 pouvait subir une telle modification chimique, ni que cette dernière pouvait avoir une incidence sur la fonction neuronale.

« Nous avons découvert une modification à une protéine qui exerce un contrôle sur l’appareil de protéogénèse cellulaire. Cette modification semble avoir une incidence sur la capacité des cellules nerveuses à communiquer entre elles. Cette capacité semble faire partie des processus sous-jacents à la mémoire », de préciser Michael Bidinosti, doctorant rattaché au laboratoire du professeur Sonenberg jusqu’à récemment.

Monsieur Bidinosti explique que, de plus en plus, l’étude de la protéinogénèse et l’étude de la mémoire sont des domaines qui tendent à converger. Dans cette perspective, les travaux menés sous la direction de Nahum Sonenberg permettent la réalisation de percées spectaculaires dans ce champ d’études. Les collaborations nouées ont été essentielles à l’aboutissement de cette découverte et les chercheurs qui y ont pris part sont notamment rattachés à l’Université de Montréal, à l’Institut neurologique de Montréal, à l’Université de Toronto, au Collège de médecine Baylor de Houston et à l’Université de Bergen en Norvège.

« Une meilleure compréhension de la protéinogénèse cérébrale est essentielle à l’avancement de la neuroscience, et cela est particulièrement vrai alors que les chercheurs découvrent qu’il est possible que les protéines modifiées aient un impact direct sur le processus mnémonique. Les Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada espèrent que ces nouvelles données mèneront à la réalisation de recherches plus poussées, lesquelles permettront ultimement de résoudre les problèmes liés à l’amnésie », a précisé le docteur Anthony Phillips, directeur scientifique de l’Institut des neurosciences, de la santé mentale et des toxicomanies des Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada.

Financée par les Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada et l’Institut médical Howard Hughes, les résultats de cette étude ont été publiés dans le journal Molecular Cell le 25 mars 2010. Les travaux menés par Michael Bidinosti ont été financés à l’aide d’une bourse de recherche doctorale octroyée par le Conseil de recherches en sciences naturelles et en génie.

Internet : www.medicine.mcgill.ca/nahum/

William Raillant-Clark | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.medicine.mcgill.ca/nahum/

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