Scientists have discovered a strange mechanism for the development of the fruit fly antennal lobe, an intricate structure that converts the chaotic stew of odors in the environment into discrete signals in the brain.
The fruit fly antennal lobe is analogous to the olfactory bulb in humans.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that in the flys antennal lobe a common nervous system receptor actually inhibits the activity of the protein it binds. This is the first time a receptor has been found to behave this way in normal, healthy cells.
The study appears this month in Nature Neuroscience.
Receptors and the proteins that bind to them normally work in concert to generate a cascade of changes within cells. A receptor may be embedded in the cell membrane, waiting for a specific protein, called a ligand, to bind to it. Binding often causes the receptor to change its shape, allowing it to interact with other components in the cell. These reactions continue until a specific task is accomplished. Receptors and ligands are fundamental to most chemical signaling in the body, and normally they work together.
The new mechanism, which directs the growth and development of tens of thousands of neurons that are vital to odor detection, instead involves a receptor that disables its protein ligand. The receptor is called derailed because its absence causes neurons to grow wildly off-track. The ligand that binds to the derailed receptor is known as Wnt5 (pronounced wint 5 short for wingless insertion 5). Both derailed and Wnt5 are known to play key roles in the growth and development of the nervous system.
In the antennal lobe, derailed is acting as a decoy receptor, said U. of I. cell and developmental biology professor Huey Hing, who led the study.
It is nonproductively just sucking up the ligand. Nobody has ever seen a receptor acting in this way. The receptor is actually regulating the ligand.
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign