SUMO wrestling in the brain

May 07, 2007

Increasing the amount of SUMO, a small protein in the brain, could be a way of treating diseases such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, reveal scientists at the University of Bristol, UK. Their findings are published online today in Nature.

The brain contains about 100 million nerve cells, each having 10,000 connections to other nerves cells. These connections, called synapses, chemically transmit the information that controls all brain function via proteins called receptors. These processes are believed to be the basis of learning and memory.

A major feature of a healthy brain is that the synapses can modify how efficiently they work, by increasing or decreasing the amount of information transmitted. In disorders such as epilepsy the synapses transmit too much information, resulting in over-excitation in the cells.

The research team, led by Professor Jeremy Henley at Bristol University, has discovered that when one type of receptor – the kainate receptor – receives a chemical signal, a small protein called SUMO becomes attached to it. SUMO pulls the kainate receptor out of the synapse, preventing it from receiving information from other cells, thus making the cell less excitable.

Professor Henley said: “This work is important because it gives a new perspective and a deeper understanding of how the flow of information between cells in the brain is regulated. It is possible that increasing the amount of SUMO attached to kainate receptors – which would reduce communication between the cells – could be a way to treat epilepsy by preventing over-excitation.”

The discovery that SUMO proteins can regulate the way brain cells communicate may provide insight into the causes of, and treatments for, brain diseases that are characterised by too much synaptic activity. This discovery also provides new potential targets for drug development that could one day be used to treat a range of such disorders.

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Team builds new 'off switch' to shut down neural activity

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Team reprograms blood cells into blood stem cells in mice

4 hours ago

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have reprogrammed mature blood cells from mice into blood-forming hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), using a cocktail of eight genetic switches called transcription factors. The reprogrammed ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...

Study suggests targeting B cells may help with MS

A new study suggests that targeting B cells, which are a type of white blood cell in the immune system, may be associated with reduced disease activity for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The study is released today ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...