Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCSD Biologists Discover That Nerve Activity, Not Just Genetics Controls Kinds Of Neurotransmitters Produced

03.06.2004


Photo shows different neurotransmitters in red and purple in normal frog embryos and embryos with decreased and increased nerve activity (from top to bottom) Photo credit: Laura N. Borodinsky, UCSD


Neurobiologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that altering electrical activity in nerve cells can change the chemical messengers the cells generate to communicate with other cells, a finding that may one day lead to new treatments for mood and learning disorders.

In a study published in the June 3rd issue of the journal Nature, a team led by UCSD professor of biology Nicholas Spitzer shows that manipulating the electrical activity of developing nerve cells can alter the type of neurotransmitter—chemicals that carry information between nerve cells at junctions called “synapses”—they produce. A review paper discussing these results will appear in July in Trends in Neurosciences. The results are important because scientists had long believed that the different kinds of neurotransmitters used by different nerve cells were genetically programmed into the cell.

"If you were to ask neuroscientists what learning is in cellular and molecular terms, none would have said it is the changing identity of neurotransmitters,” says Spitzer. “That would have been heresy because everyone thought neurotransmitter identity was genetically programmed. Our results show that by altering neural activity, you can change the identity of the neurotransmitter a particular cell produces, raising the possibility that disorders caused by problems with neurotransmitters could be treated by modifying neural activity.”



In the study, the UCSD group increased or decreased the electrical activity in frog embryonic spinal nerve cells by altering the current through nerve cell membranes with drugs or by genetic manipulation. They found that increases in activity increased the levels of neurotransmitters that inhibit the activity of nerve cells across the synapse and decreased the levels of neurotransmitters that stimulate nerve cells. Decreasing electrical activity had the opposite effect.

These results led the researchers to propose that while genes control the formation of structures that produce electrical activity in nerve cells, the activity itself can determine what neurotransmitters are produced. According to Spitzer, this could provide flexibility for the growth and operation of the nervous system.

“Biology is a little sloppy,” explains Spitzer. “A nerve cell may need to grow to the other side of the developing brain and form a synapse there. Genes can do a lot to specify where to grow, but precision is not absolute. So instead of genes specifying everything, activity can play a role by fine tuning what neurotransmitters are expressed when the nerve cell finds its target.”

It is not yet clear how activity affects neurotransmitters in the adult nervous system, but Spitzer thinks there is a good chance activity will play a similar role there as well.

“Often the processes we see in the embryonic nervous system we also see in the adult, albeit in a much more muted way,” he says.

If so, these findings could open new avenues for treating mental illnesses like depression, phobias, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which together affect 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, with estimated cost of treatment and lost productivity totaling approximately $150 billion, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

“Focal stimulation of the brain to elicit changes in neurotransmitter production could have advantages over current drug treatments and electroconvulsive therapy—stimulation of the whole brain with electric current,” notes Spitzer. “These treatments work for many patients, but both treat the entire brain in an imprecise way and have side effects.”

The first author on the paper, Laura Borodinsky, a postdoctoral fellow in Spitzer’s laboratory, is now studying how the cells across the synapse receiving the neurotransmitter change in response to being exposed to a different neurotransmitter. Using changes in activity to treat neural disorders would depend on the ability of these cells to respond appropriately to the new neurotransmitter. Further research is also needed, the UCSD scientists say, to determine if the 50 to 100 other known neurotransmitters are also regulated by activity.

Other UCSD contributors to the publication were Cory Root, Julia Cronin, Sharon Sann and Xiaonan Gu. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Merck.


Media Contact: Sherry Seethaler (858) 534-4656
Comment: Nicholas Spitzer (858) 534-2456

Sherry Seethaler | UCSD
Further information:
http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/science/sactivity.asp

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cell Division at High Speed
19.06.2019 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Monitoring biodiversity with sound: how machines can enrich our knowledge
18.06.2019 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Successfully Tested in Praxis: Bidirectional Sensor Technology Optimizes Laser Material Deposition

The quality of additively manufactured components depends not only on the manufacturing process, but also on the inline process control. The process control ensures a reliable coating process because it detects deviations from the target geometry immediately. At LASER World of PHOTONICS 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be demonstrating how well bi-directional sensor technology can already be used for Laser Material Deposition (LMD) in combination with commercial optics at booth A2.431.

Fraunhofer ILT has been developing optical sensor technology specifically for production measurement technology for around 10 years. In particular, its »bd-1«...

Im Focus: The hidden structure of the periodic system

The well-known representation of chemical elements is just one example of how objects can be arranged and classified

The periodic table of elements that most chemistry books depict is only one special case. This tabular overview of the chemical elements, which goes back to...

Im Focus: MPSD team discovers light-induced ferroelectricity in strontium titanate

Light can be used not only to measure materials’ properties, but also to change them. Especially interesting are those cases in which the function of a material can be modified, such as its ability to conduct electricity or to store information in its magnetic state. A team led by Andrea Cavalleri from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg used terahertz frequency light pulses to transform a non-ferroelectric material into a ferroelectric one.

Ferroelectricity is a state in which the constituent lattice “looks” in one specific direction, forming a macroscopic electrical polarisation. The ability to...

Im Focus: Determining the Earth’s gravity field more accurately than ever before

Researchers at TU Graz calculate the most accurate gravity field determination of the Earth using 1.16 billion satellite measurements. This yields valuable knowledge for climate research.

The Earth’s gravity fluctuates from place to place. Geodesists use this phenomenon to observe geodynamic and climatological processes. Using...

Im Focus: Tube anemone has the largest animal mitochondrial genome ever sequenced

Discovery by Brazilian and US researchers could change the classification of two species, which appear more akin to jellyfish than was thought.

The tube anemone Isarachnanthus nocturnus is only 15 cm long but has the largest mitochondrial genome of any animal sequenced to date, with 80,923 base pairs....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new force for optical tweezers awakens

19.06.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New AI system manages road infrastructure via Google Street View

19.06.2019 | Information Technology

A new manufacturing process for aluminum alloys

19.06.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>