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Meat, egg and dairy nutrient essential for brain development
Date:11/24/2013

This news release is available in French.

Asparagine, found in foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, was until now considered non-essential because it is produced naturally by the body. Researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital found that the amino acid is essential for normal brain development. This is not the case for other organs. "The cells of the body can do without it because they use asparagine provided through diet. Asparagine, however, is not well transported to the brain via the blood-brain barrier," said senior co-author of the study Dr. Jacques Michaud, who found that brain cells depend on the local synthesis of asparagine to function properly. First co-author Jos-Mario Capo-Chichi and colleague Grant Mitchell also made major contributions to the study.

In April 2009, a Quebec family experienced the worst tragedy for parents: before the age of one, one of their sons died of a rare genetic disease causing congenital microcephaly, intellectual disability, cerebral atrophy, and refractory seizures. The event was even more tragic because it was the third infant to die in this family from the same disease.

This tragedy led Dr. Michaud to discover the genetic abnormality responsible for this developmental disorder. "We are not at the verge of a miracle drug," Michaud said, "but we at least know where to look."

The team identified the gene affected by the mutation code for asparagine synthetase, the enzyme responsible for synthesizing the amino acid asparagine. The study is the first to associate a specific genetic variant with a deficiency of this enzyme. "In healthy subjects, it seems that the level of asparagine synthetase in the brain is sufficient to supply neurons," Michaud said. "In in
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Contact: William Raillant-Clark
w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca
514-343-7593
University of Montreal
Source:Eurekalert  

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