Since Ago2 is known to be involved in protecting against transposon activity in fruit flies, Dubnau and colleagues in his lab, including Wanhe Li and Lisa Prazak, were compelled to look for transposons.
Though transposons have been shown to be active during normal brain development, they are silenced soon afterward. The implication is that they have some functional role in development.
When Dubnau's group looked for transposons they found that there is a marked increase in transposon levels in the brain cells, or neurons, by 21 days of age in normal fruit flies. The levels were observed to increase steadily with age. These transposons, including one in particular called gypsy, were highly active, jumping from place to place in the genome.
When they blocked Ago2 from being expressed in fruit flies, transposons accumulated at a much younger age. In fact the levels of transposons in young Ago2 "knock-out" flies were equivalent to those in much older normal flies, and increased further still as the Ago2 knock-out flies aged.
Accompanying this transposon accumulation were defects in long-term memory that mirrored those usually seen in much older flies, as well as a much-reduced lifespan. "Essentially the Ago2 knock out flies have no long-term memory by the time they are 20 days old, while normal flies have a normal long-term memory at the same age," Dubnau reports.
In a previous paper [http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0044099] the Dubnau lab, in collaboration with CSHL Assistant Professor Molly Hammell, established a connection between transposons and devastating neurodegenerative diseases such ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease) and FTLD (frontotemporal lobar degeneration). The link was the protein TDP-43, which they showed controls transposon activity [
|Contact: Edward Brydon|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory