New genetic marker makes fruit fly a better model for brain development and diseases

Nov 12, 2010

Belgian researchers have improved the fruit fly as model for studying the connections between brain cells. The researchers developed a specific marker for a part of the fly's nerve cell which had previously been difficult to distinguish. Their discovery will not only contribute to gaining a better insight into brain development but also makes the fruit fly into a better model system for studying brain development and brain disorders.

The human brain is composed of 100 billion individual which communicate with each other via a complex network of connections. Errors in communications of these cells are often at the basis of and nerve diseases such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. In the search for possible solutions to these diseases, one important aspect is to understand how the connections between nerve cells develop.

The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is an important, low-cost model organism with 60% genetic similarity with humans. The fruit fly plays a significant role in clarifying various neurological processes such as the way our memory works and our sense of smell and in studying particular . The team headed by Bassem Hassan uses the fruit fly as a model to study .

Though Drosophila has long been used to study the connections between nerve cells, one specific marker was still missing. To understand the whole circuit between nerve cells, markers are needed for the different compartments of nerve cells (presynaptic or output cells and postsynaptic or input cells).

Under the direction of Bassem Hassan and in collaboration with Wim Annaert, Laura Nicolaï, Ariane Ramaekers and their colleagues have identified the missing marker, DenMark (Dendritic Marker), a hybrid of a mouse protein and a fluorescent protein. The high specificity of such a marker for the input compartment of the nerve cells in Drosophila gives rise to hope that it can also be used in other model organisms.

Nerve cells communicate via a synapse. A synapse is a space in the connection between nerve cells, more specifically the space between the presynaptic membrane (of an axon) and the postsynaptic membrane (of a dendrite). Axons conduct away from the cell, dendrites (usually) to it. The "message is transmitted" via the synapse by neurotransmitters.

Explore further: Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

More information: Genetically encoded dendritic marker sheds light on neuronal connectivity in Drosophila - PNAS - Nicolaï et al. - www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/11/03/1010198107

Provided by Flanders Institute for Biotechnology

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers make new finding about how memory is stored

Apr 23, 2008

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are the first to show that the location of protein-destroying “machines” in nerve cells in the brain may play an important role in how memories are formed – a ...

Gas on your mind

Dec 11, 2006

Scientists at the University of Leicester are to gain a greater insight into the workings of the human mind…through the study of a snail’s brain.

Milestone in the regeneration of brain cells

Aug 20, 2007

The majority of cells in the human brain are not nerve cells but star-shaped glia cells, the so called “astroglia”. “Glia means “glue”, explains Götz. “As befits their name, until now these cells have been regarded ...

Recommended for you

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

2 hours ago

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Engineered E. coli produces high levels of D-ribose

3 hours ago

D-ribose is a commercially important sugar used as a sweetener, a nutritional supplement, and as a starting compound for synthesizing riboflavin and several antiviral drugs. Genetic engineering of Escherichia co ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...