Nitric oxide can alter brain function

Nov 26, 2008

Research from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester shows that nitric oxide (NO) can change the computational ability of the brain. This finding has implications for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease and our understanding of brain function more generally.

The research is led by Professor Ian Forsythe and is reported in the journal Neuron on 26th November.

Professor Forsythe, of the MRC Toxicology Unit, explains: "It is well known that nerve cells communicate via the synapse – the site at which chemical messengers (neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine or glutamate) are packaged and then released under tight control to influence their neighbours.

"Nitric oxide is a chemical messenger which cannot be stored and can rapidly diffuse across cell membranes to act at remote sites (in contrast to conventional neurotransmitters which cannot pass across cell membranes).

"It is broadly localized in the central nervous system, where it influences synaptic transmission and contributes to learning and memory mechanisms. However, because it is normally released in such minute quantities and is so labile, it is very difficult to study.

"We have exploited an in vitro preparation of a giant synapse -called the calyx of Held, developed here at the University of Leicester in the 1990s- and its target in the auditory pathway to explore nitric oxide signalling in the brain.

"We show that NO is made in response to incoming synaptic activity (activity generated by sound received by the ear) and that it acts to suppress a key potassium ion-channel (Kv3). Normally these ion-channels keep electrical potentials very short-lived, but nitric oxide shifts their activity, slowing the electrical potentials and reducing information passage along the pathway, acting as a form of gain control.

"Surprisingly, the whole population of neurons were affected, even those neurons which had no active synaptic inputs, so indicating that nitric oxide is a 'volume transmitter' passing information between cells without the need for a synapse. Such a function is ideal for tuning neuronal populations to global activity. On the other hand, too much nitric oxide is extremely toxic and will cause death of nerve cells; so within the kernel of this important signaling mechanism are the potential seeds for neurodegeneration, which if left unchecked contribute to the pathologies of stroke and dementias."

In the future Professor Forsythe's research group will be trying to understand how these signalling mechanisms are applicable elsewhere in the brain and will investigate how aberrant signalling contributes to neurodegenerative disease processes such as in Alzheimer's disease..

Source: University of Leicester

Explore further: Growing a blood vessel in a week

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

Sep 29, 2014

(Phys.org) —A 17-year old bet among scientists at the Karolinska Institute has been a wager that whoever wrote the most articles with Dylan quotes before they retired would get a free lunch. Results included ...

'Nanobionics' aims to give plants super powers

Apr 02, 2014

Plants are an engineering marvel of nature. Fueled by sunlight, they recycle our carbon dioxide waste into fresh oxygen for us to breathe. Plus, they make the world prettier. But, with a little help from us humans, can they ...

Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure

Jun 28, 2010

For people with hypertension, eating dark chocolate can significantly reduce blood pressure. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Medicine combined the results of 15 studies into the effects of flavanols, the co ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

Oct 24, 2014

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

Oct 24, 2014

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_B
5 / 5 (1) Nov 26, 2008
It won't be long and NO will be a banned substance if it can increase performance.
Mauricio
not rated yet Nov 26, 2008
Yes, they will banned it and they will give us a "wonderful" drug that destroys our livers, our hearts, our kidneys, but is "good" because it comes from the "doctors" and the pharmaceutical companies that work for the good of humanity :)