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Molecular '2-way radio' directs nerve cell branching and connectivity
Date:1/7/2013

away from the axon bundle. So Sema-1a acts as an instructional signal and PlexA as its receptor. In the fruit fly study, the scientists discovered that Sema-1a can also act as a receptor for PlexA. "We used to think that this pair of surface proteins acted as a one-way radio, with information flowing in a single direction," says Kolodkin. "What we found is that instructional information flows both ways."

The Johns Hopkins team identified the "two-way" system by knocking out and otherwise manipulating fruit fly genes and then watching what happened to motor neuron branching. In these experiments, the researchers uncovered still other proteins located within the motor axons that Sema-1a interacts with after receiving a PlexA signal. When the gene for a protein called Pebble was deleted, for example, motor axons bunched together and didn't branch. When the gene for RhoGAPp190 was deleted, motor axons branched too soon and failed to recognize their target muscles.

Through a series of biochemical tests, Kolodkin's team found that Pebble and RhoGAPp190 both act on a third protein, Rho1. When Rho1 is activated, it collapses the supporting structures within an axon, making it "limp" and unable to continue toward a target. Sema-1a can bind to Pebble or to RhoGAPp190, and subsequently, these proteins can bind to Rho1. Binding to Pebble activates Rho1, causing axons to branch away from each other. However, binding to RhoGAPp190 shuts down Rho1, causing axons to remain bunched together. Thus, says Kolodkin, balance in the amounts of available Pebble and RhoGAPp190 can determine axon behavior, although what determines this balance is still unknown.

"This signaling is complex and we still don't understand how it's all controlled, but we're one step closer now," says Kolodkin. He notes that "a relative" of the Sema-1a protein in humans has already been implicated in schizophrenia, although details of this protein's role in disease remain unclear. "Our e
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Contact: Catherine Kolf
ckolf@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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