A neuron from the brain in which DNA has been stained red and the Dasm1 protein, which controls mammalian dendrite development, has been stained green. Dasm1 is abundantly expressed in the dendrites of neurons, but not in the axons.
Researchers have discovered a critical protein that regulates the growth and activation of neural connections in the brain. The protein functions in the developing brain, where it controls the sprouting of new connections and stimulates otherwise silent connections among immature neurons, and potentially in the mature brain as well, where it may play a role in memory formation.
The researchers published their discovery of the protein, called dendrite arborization and synapse maturation 1, or Dasm1, in two papers in the September 7, 2004, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They were led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators Yuh Nung Jan and Lily Yeh Jan. The first author on both papers was Song-Hai Shi in the Jans’ laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dendritic spines are mushroom-shaped protuberances that extend from the surface of the cable-like axon of a neuron. Dendrites receive chemical signals that trigger nerve impulses in the form of neurotransmitters launched from neighboring neurons. Growth of new dendrites can therefore increase the connection between neurons. Changes in the strength of connections, known as long-term potentiation, allow the brain to create memories.
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