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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Telling Brain Cells to Grow Up
11 June 2001 7:00 pm
Children mature at different rates, and so do brain cells. But the proteins and signals that allow a cell to stay immature or commit to a specific fate are still unknown. Now, scientists report that a pair of proteins that helps to translate signals from the outside of the cell to the nucleus also may play a role in a cell's maturation.
A sobering fact behind all the excitement over stem cells and their possible use in new therapies is that researchers don't yet know what molecular signals control a cell's fate--information they need if they want to coax the cells to become, say, replacement neurons in Parkinson's patients. Elena Cattaneo of the University of Milan in Italy and her colleagues decided to focus on the role of a pair of proteins called ShcA and ShcC, which are part of a network of proteins that responds to external signals and helps direct the cell's reaction. The team also knew that immature, dividing cells contained ShcA, while ShcC was more prevalent in adult brain cells that can no longer divide.
Taking a closer look at the balance between the two, the researchers found a striking division: As cells in culture matured, the levels of ShcA went down and ShcC increased. In fact, ShcC was entirely absent in embryonic brain cells or in cells that were still dividing--it only appeared in mature neurons. In mature neurons in culture, extra copies of the ShcC gene increased cell survival and seemed to encourage them to grow longer neuronal extensions, the team reports in the June issue of Nature Neuroscience.
No one yet knows what controls the switch from ShcA to ShcC, but the switch might help explain why mature and immature cells respond differently to the same molecular signals, says developmental neurobiologist Mark Mehler of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Cattaneo says the find might someday lead to drugs that could help neurons survive in patients with neurodegenerative disorders.