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: Beware of claims about cosmetic stem cells procedures, review says

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

T-Mobile deal helps Rhapsody hit 2M paying subs

5 minutes ago

(AP)—Rhapsody International Inc. said Tuesday its partnership with T-Mobile US Inc. has helped boost its number of paying subscribers to more than 2 million, up from 1.7 million in April.

Airbnb woos business travelers

18 minutes ago

Airbnb on Monday set out to woo business travelers to its service that lets people turn unused rooms in homes into de facto hotel space.

Google searches hold key to future market crashes

11 hours ago

A team of researchers from Warwick Business School and Boston University have developed a method to automatically identify topics that people search for on Google before subsequent stock market falls.

Recommended for you

Diet affects men's and women's gut microbes differently

Jul 29, 2014

The microbes living in the guts of males and females react differently to diet, even when the diets are identical, according to a study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions published ...

User comments : 0