Everything from the ability to concentrate, perceive and learn to debilitating illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress syndrome and schizophrenia is influenced by the number of receptors on nerve cells. The more receptors each cell has at its communication points, or synapses, the better that messages are carried through the brain.
A UIC research team led by David Featherstone, assistant professor of biological sciences, has discovered that receptor numbers are controlled by the brain's level of glutamate. But it is not the same glutamate that most neuroscientists think about -- the neurotransmitter that moves in message packets across the synapse. Instead, it is what Featherstone calls ambient extracellular glutamate, which just floats around the nervous system and has generally been ignored because no one knew where it came from or what it was doing.
For years, scientists failed to identify glutamate as a key neurotransmitter precisely because there was so much of it.
"It made no sense," said Featherstone. "People figured you couldn't use glutamate to send messages because there was too much glutamate background noise in the brain. It turns out that this background noise plays an important part in regulating information transfer."
Featherstone and his lab team found that glia cells are the source of the excess ambient glutamate. Along with neurons, these poorly understood "support" cells fill the brain.
The team discovered proteins in fruit fly glia cells that regulate the amount of ambient glutamate in the brain. Called xCT transporter proteins, they pump glutamate out of glia cells.
"When we mutate the protein, we get less ambient extracellular glutamate, more glutamate receptors, and so a stronger transfer of messages at synapses," Featherstone said.
The gene mutation also made the flies bisexual, leading him to name the gene "genderblind."
"The mutants are completely bisexual, but fertile. It's the first gene that really specifically affects homosexual behavior without affecting heterosexual behavior," he said.
"Trying to understand fly bisexuality sounds silly, but these behavioral changes are important evidence that ambient extracellular glutamate and xCT transport proteins play important, unsuspected roles in brain function," Featherstone said. "We think we'll be able to learn a lot about perception and development from figuring out exactly what's happening in these flies.
"It's amazing how many biomedical breakthroughs have come from crazy directions."
Paul Francuch | EurekAlert!
Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY
NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences