Fishy fight-or-flight response may hold answers to human nerve damage

Apr 17, 2009 By Brian Murphy
Declan Ali and Shunmoogum Patten believe that these little zebrafish may hold some answers to for humans dealing with nerve damage.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the University of Alberta are looking to the tiny zebrafish for a way to regenerate damaged nerve cells in people.

The zebrafish, a common fresh-water tropical fish, share the same fight-or-flight reaction that humans do. This synaptic response-the complicated brain to muscles signals-catapult an embryonic zebrafish to safety and has been partially unraveled by Declan Ali.

Ali, associate professor of biological science, says zebrafish are good match for humans because deliver their instant messaging the same way for fish and people.

"All sensory information has to be transferred from one part of the brain to another by synapses," said Ali. "We're interested in how the nervous system of the zebrafish develops while it's still an embryo."

The hope is that one day understanding the sequence of synapses in the escape response of the embryonic zebrafish might lead to recovery for people suffering damage through spine and brain injuries.

In a damaged brain or , communication along the nerves is cut off. The solution: re-connect the synaptic contact points. While this is a complicated concept that will require more research, Ali believes something can be learned from the tiny tropical fish. "We believe that the development of communication pathways for nerves in a zebrafish embryo is similar to the regeneration of synaptic contacts in damaged nerves."

One of the reasons Ali and his colleague, PhD candidate Shunmoogum Patten, have found zebrafish to be ideal for analysis is because its sensory system and fire from the moment it hatches. In fact, Ali and others are considering the possibility that while it's still in the egg, the zebrafish's escape response is triggered so it will begin struggling to break out.

That's the vital moment that most interests Ali. "If we can understand how the synaptic pathways of a still developing are laid out, we can apply that to damaged nerve pathways in people."

Ali has moved the understanding of the synaptic regeneration one step forward by identifying proteins vital to linking a nervous system in a still-developing organism. Ali and Patten had their work published earlier this month in Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences.

The U of A researchers are hopeful others will build on their work. Ali is confident that one day researchers will have an "eureka" moment and the final piece of the puzzle will fall into place.

"Somebody might say we know that such-and-such a drug can enhance a connection, but before that happens we've got to know more. And we're slowly getting there."

Provided by University of Alberta (news : web)

Explore further: Mutant protein in muscle linked to neuromuscular disorder

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Zebrafish: It's not your parents' lab rat

Jul 30, 2007

Zebrafish cost about a dollar at the pet store. They grow from eggs to hunting their own food in three days. Adults can lay up to 500 eggs at once… and you have more in common with them than you think.

Study shows how the zebrafish gets his stripe

Sep 25, 2007

Scientists have discovered how the zebrafish (Danio rerio) develops one of its four stripes. Their findings add to the growing list of tasks carried out by an important molecule that is involved in the arrangement of everything ...

Zebrafish mutation studied

Nov 14, 2005

Harvard Medical School scientists say they've found a small molecule that suppresses the phenotype of a zebrafish mutation.

MicroRNAs help zebrafish regenerate fins

Mar 14, 2008

Biologists have discovered a molecular circuit breaker that controls a zebrafish's remarkable ability to regrow missing fins, according to a new study from Duke University Medical Center.

Recommended for you

Gate for bacterial toxins found

6 hours ago

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Aktories and Dr. Panagiotis Papatheodorou from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Freiburg have discovered the receptor responsible ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Ebola virus in Africa outbreak is a new strain

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain—evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.