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Brain cell migration during normal development may offer insight on how cancer cells spread
Date:4/24/2011

lar stage in a cortical neuron's journey. New neurons initially move in a straight line, from the inside to the outside, until they reach a layer called the intermediate zone. This zone contains relatively few neurons but many connecting fibers, or axons. When new neurons reach this layer, they lose their way and start wandering up, down, left and right, frequently changing direction. When, seemingly by chance, they emerge from the intermediate zone, they realign with their original direction of movement and speed ahead through layers of differentiated neurons towards the outer surface of the cortex.

The researchers aimed to determine how neurons get back on track after they emerge from the chaos of the intermediate zone. They identified a signaling protein, called Reelin, which is made by cells in the outermost layer of the cortex. It has been known for years that mutations in the Reelin gene cause profound cortical layering abnormalities in rodents and people, but it has been unclear which stage of neuron migration goes awry when Reelin is absent.

The new study shows that new neurons respond to Reelin as they emerge from the intermediate zone. "This is remarkable because the top layer of the cortex, where Reelin is made, is widely separated from the top of the intermediate zone, where it acts, so the Reelin protein must be diffuse," Cooper said. "It is also remarkable that Reelin seems not to be a direction signal itself. Rather, Reelin triggers changes in the membranes of the migrating neurons that allow the cells to respond to direction signals."

The researchers show that a membrane protein called N-cadherin increases on the surface of neurons when the neurons encounter Reelin. The surface increase in N-cadherin allows the cell to choose the appropriate direction for its next stage of migration. "This represents a new and surprising function for N-cadherin," Jossin said, "because normally this protein acts as a cellular stabilizer and not as an orc
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Contact: Kristen Woodward
kwoodwar@fhcrc.org
206-667-5095
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Source:Eurekalert

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