Family of proteins critical for normal brain function identified

November 20th, 2007 - 4:15 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 20 (ANI): A study has identified a family of proteins key to the formation of the communication networks critical for normal brain function.

The mouse-based study, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) biology professor Frank Gertler, found that a certain family of proteins was necessary to direct the formation of axons and dendrites, the cellular extensions that facilitate communication between neurons.

Gertler said that in the research the focus was on cellular outgrowths called neurites, which are the precursors to axons and dendrites. Understanding how neurites form could eventually lead to therapies involving stimulation of neurite growth,

You could use these insights to help repair injuries to the top of the spinal column, or treat brain injuries or neurodegenerative disorders, Nature quoted Gertler, as saying.

In the study, the team developed the first model that allowed for study of the effects of the protein family, known as the Ena/VASP proteins.

Most of the neurons in the cerebral cortex have a single axon, which is a long, thin extension that relays information to other cells, and many shorter dendrites, which receive messages from other cells.

The interconnection of these axons and dendrites is essential to create a functional neural circuit.

From the study, the scientists found that mice without the three Ena/VASP proteins did produce brain cells, but those neurons were unable to extend any axons or dendrites.

Gertler said that it was already known that Ena/VASP proteins are involved in axon navigation, but to find that they are also critical for neurite formation was very surprising.

He said that the team believes that Ena/VASP proteins control the growth of filopodia by regulating actin filaments interactions with microtubules in the cell, which form part of the cell skeleton.

Gertler added that one theory is that the microtubules might be delivering materials or sending signals to the filopodia through the actin filaments.

The finding might lead to new treatments for brain injury and disease.

The study is issued in Nature Cell Biology. (ANI)

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