Scientists make important step toward stopping plaque-like formations in Huntington's disease

May 21, 2010

They might not be known for their big brains, but fruit flies are helping to make scientists and doctors smarter about what causes Huntington's disease and how to treat it. New research, published in the journal Genetics describes a laboratory test that allows scientists to evaluate large numbers of fruit fly genes for a possible role in the formation of plaque-like protein aggregates within cells. Those genes often have counterparts in humans, which might then be manipulated to stop or slow the formation of plaque-like protein aggregates, the hallmark of Huntington's and several other neurodegenerative diseases.

"Aggregate formations are closely linked to aging and brain diseases," said Sheng Zhang, Ph.D, a researcher involved in the work from the Research Center for , the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. "We hope our study will not only help to uncover how the formation of aggregates is regulated in a cell, but also help find good drug-development targets. Then, we can find ways to slow down formations during aging and prevent and treat aggregates-related brain diseases, which are a pressing challenge to a modern society that is enjoying a longer ."

To make this advance, scientists examined every known gene in the fruit fly genome and identified a small group of genes (more than 70 percent of which have human counterparts) that likely play important roles in regulating the formation of plaque-like protein aggregates within cells. They then expressed the Huntington's disease protein in the fruit fly and found that it caused plaque-like protein aggregates in different fly tissues, including the brain and in cultured cells. The plaque-like protein aggregates were similar in appearance and biochemical properties to those found in tissues of people with . The scientists employed two methods to survey a large number of genes: automated microscopy for imaging the plaque-like protein aggregates in the cells at a high-magnification level, and a computer-assisted method to quantify information on the aggregates in each tested sample. By integrating these methods, researchers were able to quickly examine all the approximately 14,000 fruit fly genes and identify the ones that are important for regulating the formation of aggregates by the mutant Huntington protein.

"The genetic overlap between humans and continues to be a treasure trove for scientific discoveries," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of Genetics. "One hundred years ago, no one would have ever thought that research on a fly's brain could lead to medicines for human brains, but this research is a perfect example of this possibility."

Explore further: Clipping proteins that package genes may limit abnormal cell growth in tumors

More information: http://www.genetics.org

Provided by Genetics Society of America

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Aging gracefully requires taking out the trash

Dec 14, 2007

Suppressing a cellular cleanup-mechanism known as autophagy can accelerate the accumulation of protein aggregates that leads to neural degeneration. In an upcoming issue of Autophagy, scientists at the Sa ...

Lessons from yeast: A possible cure for Parkinson's disease?

Aug 14, 2008

Parkinson disease (PD) is a debilitating and lethal neurodegenerative disease, for which there is currently no cure. It is caused by the progressive loss of nerve cells that produce the chemical dopamine and is characterized ...

Yeast model shows promise as Alzheimer's test

Nov 18, 2006

A century ago this month, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer formally described characteristics of the neurodegenerative disease which ultimately came to bear his name. While international efforts to learn about Alzheimer's ...

Recommended for you

Organovo has 3D-printed liver tissue for drug testing

Nov 20, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—The commercial release of 3D printed liver tissue was announced earlier this week. Organovo is the company behind the release. The product is intended for use for preclinical drug discovery ...

User comments : 0

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.