A mental retardation gene provides insights into brain formation (w/ Video)

Feb 15, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at Duke University Medical Center have uncovered clues to memory and learning by exploring the function of a single gene that governs how neurons form new connections. The finding may also provide insights into a form of human mental retardation.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists explored the gene WRP's functions in the cell (neuron) and then demonstrated how acutely memory and learning are affected when WRP is missing in mice.

"Human genomics studies have opened the floodgates of information that will benefit people with many different diseases," said Scott Soderling, an assistant professor in the Duke department of . "But it is impossible to correct something without knowing what the exact underlying problem is."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This movie shows a typical (wild type) mouse as it spends much more time exploring an object it has never seen before and little time with the object it has previously explored. In this study, the mice without the WRP gene spent equal amounts of time exploring new and already seen objects. Credit: Duke University Medical Center, Dept. of Cell Biology

The researchers knew from earlier human research into the genetics of one individual that when WRP is disrupted, there might be a possible link with severe mental retardation.

The group conducted experiments using in a lab dish which showed that cells enriched with WRP went on to form many filopodia, finger-like protrusions that use to connect with one another.

Without WRP, neurons ultimately were defective in making filopodia,which meant they could not make the correct number of connections, called synapses.

In studies on mice with and without the WRP gene, the researchers were able to see behavior differences.

In one experiment, they tested normal and WRP-deleted mice for their behavior in recognizing a previously unseen toy versus a familiar toy.

A mouse with the gene will typically spend less time investigating a toy it has seen before, but the spent the same amount of time each toy, suggesting they don't remember the toy they saw yesterday.

"There was a striking difference between the groups of mice," said Soderling, who is part of the Neonatal Perinatal Research Institute. "The mice without WRP had difficulty learning and didn't display typical memory ability in several experiments."

"Because the excitatory synapses that we are studying form their connections right after birth in humans, we think these specific pathways may even provide an opportunity for early intervention after birth," Soderling said. "Abnormalities in these types of synapses have been linked to , and also to schizophrenia and fetal alcohol syndrome, where there are abnormalities that could later affect learning and memory."

"What surprised me most is that we had a preconceived notion that WRP would be part of a process that helped the neuronal cell surface fold inward," said lead author Benjamin Carlson, a graduate student in the Soderling lab. "Eventually we figured out it was just the opposite. When we placed the WRP protein on the inside of the neurons, we could see these buds forming out of the neurons, which then became the longer filopodia and . It is rewarding when you finally think through the possibilities and take a different approach that turns out to yield something valuable."

Soderling credits his collaborators in the Duke Transgenic Mouse and Bacterial Recombineering Core Facility, which helped to produce the right type of mouse for the research.

Explore further: 'Trigger' for stress processes discovered in the brain

More information: www.jneurosci.org/

Related Stories

Location, location, location

Jul 10, 2008

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center have solved a mystery that lies at the heart of human learning, and they say the solution may help explain some forms of mental retardation as well as provide clues ...

Scientists find molecular glue needed to wire the brain

Dec 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Yale University researchers have found that a single molecule not only connects brain cells but also changes how we learn. The findings, reported in the December 9 issue of the journal Neuron, may he ...

Recommended for you

'Chatty' cells help build the brain

1 hour ago

The cerebral cortex, which controls higher processes such as perception, thought and cognition, is the most complex structure in the mammalian central nervous system. Although much is known about the intricate ...

'Trigger' for stress processes discovered in the brain

16 hours ago

At the Center for Brain Research at the MedUni Vienna an important factor for stress has been identified in collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden). This is the protein secretagogin ...

New research supporting stroke rehabilitation

Nov 26, 2014

Using world-leading research methods, the team of Dr David Wright and Prof Paul Holmes, working with Dr Jacqueline Williams from the Victoria University in Melbourne, studied activity in an area of the brain ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

paulthebassguy
1 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2011
There must be something about this gene that makes window licking more attractive too.
kaasinees
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2011
Ah... one step closer to understanding kevin, and maybe curing his illness.
Glyndwr
5 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
There must be something about this gene that makes window licking more attractive too.


You live and care for disabled people daily and come back and be that ignorant and stupid
Sinister181
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2011
There must be something about this gene that makes window licking more attractive too.


What a wanker.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.