Cancer causing enzyme also helps brain growth

March 13th, 2009 - 4:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 13 (IANS) An enzyme potentially associated with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke appears to have yet another major role to play: helping create and maintain the brain.
When scientists at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) St. Louis disabled the enzyme AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in mouse embryos, overall brain size shrank by 50 percent and the mice died within three weeks of birth.

Researchers showed that the version of AMPK they disabled was essential to the survival of neural stem cells that create the central nervous system.

Many scientists believe these same cells also regularly produce new brain cells essential for learning and memory and the general upkeep of the adult brain.

“For years, scientists have showed how AMPK regulates multiple metabolic processes, and revealed how that influence can affect cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases,” said senior author Jeffrey Milbrandt, professor of neurology at WUSM.

“Now, for the first time, we’ve shown that AMPK can cause lasting changes in cell development. That’s very exciting because it opens the possibility of modifying AMPK activity to improve brain function and health.”

The study was the featured paper in the February issue of Developmental Cell.

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