In their latest study, researchers at the Salk Institute uncovered presenilin's productive side: It helps embryonic motor neurons navigate the maze of chemical cues that pull, push and hem them in on their way to their proper targets. Without it, budding motor neurons misread their guidance signals and get stuck in the spinal cord.
By putting genes associated with Alzheimer's disease in a new light, their findings, published in the Jan. 7, 2011, issue of the journal Cell, reveal an important link between the formation of neural circuits and neurodegenerative disorders. "It was a bit of a surprise since we always thought about presenilin in the context of severing neuronal connections rather than wiring the nervous system during embryonic development," says Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Samuel Pfaff, Ph.D., a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, who led the study.
Presenilin is a component of the enzyme gamma secretase, which cleaves the amyloid precursor protein, resulting in accumulation of beta amyloid fragments. In Alzheimer's, these fragments form hard, insoluble plaques, one of the hallmarks of the disease.
Many embryonic guidance molecules persist in the adult central nervous system, where they participate in maintenance, repair and plasticity of neural circuits. "This could explain how a deregulation of guidance signaling by abnormal presenilin may play a role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease," proposes Pfaff.
The Salk study also adds an important new piece to the clockwork mechanism that guides growing nerve cells through the embryo and that depends as much on timing as on spatial accuracy. Understanding how axons find their destinations may help restore movement in people following spinal cord injury, or in those with motor neuron diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease, spinal muscle atrophy and post-polio syndrome.
During normal development, trillions of neurons reach out for others with long, slender extensions to touch, connect and wire the budding nervous system. As the hair-like protrusions, called axons, grope around in the developing embryo, trying to find their proper targets, molecular ushers stationed along their path steer them in the right direction.
"Because of the vast number of neurons in the nervous system, ensuring that every single cell is on target creates more biological complexity than we can account for with the genetic information encoded in our genome," says Pfaff. "There are an estimated 100 trillion connections in our brain and only about 20,000 genes."
To find their course, growing neurons, especially motor neurons, which need to travel very long distances to reach their targets, navigate their path one small segment at a time, guided at each intersection by intermediate guideposts—chemical cues that attract or repel approaching axons. What's more, in a tightly regulated choreography, axons often switch allegiances when they reach a critical junction.
"It provides a way of creating some of these intermediate temporal steps," explains postdoctoral researcher and first author Ge Bai. "It allows the use of a small number of genes to regulate axonal growth by regulating the signals' effects in a very precise temporal and spatial ways."
He and his team found presenilin's unexpected role in controlling the activity of axon guidance signals during a search for genes involved in the fetal development of the nervous system. They had developed a method of engineering mice so that all of their motor neurons glow green. This fluorescence allowed them to visually identify mutant mice that have errors in motor neuron development and function.
One mouse, whose specific defect the researchers had mapped to the gene coding for presenilin, stood out. Failing to exit the spinal cord, its motor neurons got stuck at the midline, a row of cells that lie, moat-like, in the middle of the developing embryo. Bai discovered that in presenilin mutant mice, they were irresistibly attracted to Netrin, which is expressed by the midline.
In normal mice, motor neurons turn a deaf ear to Netrin's siren call and head out to the periphery. They are able to ignore Netrin because the receptor for Netrin is blocked by the so-called Slit/Robo tag team. Without presenilin, however, Netrin receptor fragments that are resistant to Slit/Robo silencing accumulate in the cell, and the motor neurons are now attracted to Netrin.
"The most satisfying thing we have learned about presenilin is that this is a component that is not directly involved in the detection of signals either as a ligand or a receptor but functions as a very important regulator of their spatiotemporal activity," says Bai.
Researchers who also contributed to the work include Onanong Chivatakarn, Dario Bonanomi, Karen Lettieri, and Laura Franco at the Salk Institute; Caihong Xia and Le Ma at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the University of of Southern California in Los Angeles; Elke Stein in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University, New Haven, CT; and Joseph W. Lewcock, formerly a postdoc in the Pfaff lab and now in the Department of Neurobiology at Genentech, San Francisco.
The work was funded in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health.
About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.
Gina Kirchweger | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Biological Studies > Lou Gehrig's Disease > Medical Wellness > Netrin > Nobel Prize > motor neuron diseases > mutant mice > nerve cell > nerve cells > nervous system > neural circuits > neurodegenerative disorder > post-polio syndrome > spinal cord > spinal cord injury > spinal muscle atrophy
Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University
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...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
16.01.2017 | Information Technology
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering