Cancer gene helps in early brain development: Study

November 14th, 2007 - 10:30 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 14 (ANI): A study has found that a gene linked to paediatric brain tumours is an essential driver of early brain development.
The study, led by Balazs Hegedus, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow, revealed that the neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) gene helped push stem cells down separate paths that lead them to become two major types of brain cells- support cells known as astrocytes and brain neurons.
In the study, the researchers developed a line of mice in which they could selectively disable the mouse equivalent of the human NF1 gene, Nf1, in neural stem cells.
The researchers turned to neural stem cells; the progenitor cells that give rise to neurons and astrocytes in the brains of developing embryos.
“We found that neurofibromin regulation of the Ras pathway is essential for the development of astrocytes, but not for neurons. The opposite was true of the cAMP pathway - the effect of neurofibromin on cAMP signalling was critical for neurons but not for astrocytes,” Gutmann said.
Studies of these mice revealed that the Nf1 protein, neurofibromin, controls the activity of two signalling pathways, the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) pathway and the Ras pathway, which allows neurofibromin to regulate the development of both neurons and astrocytes.
The NF1 gene is mutated in the inherited medical condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1.
Astrocytes belong to a category of brain cells known as glial cells that support, protect and nourish neurons and regulate the brain environment.
Gutmann suggested that the search for treatments for neurofibromatosis type 1 should branch out along a similar dual track.
“For patients with brain tumours, we probably need to focus on identifying new or existing treatments that normalize Ras pathway activity. To treat the learning disabilities, we probably need to focus on the cAMP pathway,” he said.
The finding showed that scientists would need separate treatments to deal with brain cancers and learning disabilities.
“Our findings also have potential implications for the general study of brain development,” Gutmann said.
“Neuroscientists have identified a number of genes that regulate brain cell development, but this gene is particularly interesting because it is affecting cells at a very early stage,” he said.
The study is published in Cell Stem Cell. (ANI)

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