Research could lead to new treatments for brain injuries

Nov 20, 2007
Research could lead to new treatments for brain injuries
These time lapse frames show development of a normal neuron (top) and a mutated neuron that does not express the Ena/VASP proteins. Image / Erik Dent and Frank Gertler, courtesy Neuron

MIT researchers have identified a family of proteins key to the formation of the communication networks critical for normal brain function. Their research could lead to new treatments for brain injury and disease.

The team, led by MIT biology professor Frank Gertler, found that a certain family of proteins is necessary to direct the formation of axons and dendrites, the cellular extensions that facilitate communication between neurons.

The work focuses 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, said Gertler.

“You could use these insights to help repair injuries to the top of the spinal column, or treat brain injuries or neurodegenerative disorders,” he said.

The researchers developed the first model that allows for study of the effects of this protein family, known as the Ena/VASP proteins. The team reported aspects of their work in the Nov. 11 issue of Neuron and the Nov. 18 online edition of Nature Cell Biology.

The majority of neurons in the cerebral cortex have a single axon—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.

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

It was already known that Ena/VASP proteins are involved in axon navigation, but the researchers were surprised to find that they are also critical for neurite formation, Gertler said.

Ena/VASP proteins are located in the tips of a neurite’s filopodia, which are short extensions that receive environmental signals and translate them into instructions for the cell. Those instructions tell the cell whether to continue extending the filopodia by lengthening actin protein filaments, or to stop growth.

Without the Ena/VASP proteins, neurites cannot form, and no connections are made between neurons.

The researchers believe 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). One theory is that the microtubules might be delivering materials or sending signals to the filopodia through the actin filaments, Gertler said.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Explore further: Promising proteins: Scientists develop new drug discovery tool using spectroscopy and simulation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google worker shows early-draft glimpse of Chrome OS

5 hours ago

The Chrome OS is in for a future look. Athena, a Chromium OS project, will bring forth the new Chrome OS user experience. Google's François Beaufort on Friday, referring to the screenshot he posted, said," ...

Firefighters battle wild blazes in Spain

9 hours ago

Spanish firefighters on Saturday battled forest blazes that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of parched land and forced scores of people from their homes, authorities said.

Kingston, Jamaica hybrid project to harness sun and wind

19 hours ago

A hybrid energy project in Kingston, Jamaica, aims to satisfy the need for money-saving renewable energy. U.S.-based WindStream Technologies recently announced the wind solar hybrid installation commissioned ...

Archaeologists excavate NY Colonial battleground

19 hours ago

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground in upstate New York that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of an infamous massacre and the location of the era's largest ...

Recommended for you

Using synthetic biology to make new antibiotics

2 hours ago

Research at Victoria University of Wellington could lead to a new generation of antibiotics, helping tackle the global issue of 'superbugs' that are resistant to modern medicine.

User comments : 0