Budnik and colleagues made this startling discovery while investigating how the synapses at the end of neurons and nearby muscle cells communicate in the developing Drosophila fruit fly to form the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). The NMJ is essential for transmitting electrical signals between neurons and muscles, allowing the organism to move and control important physiological processes. Alterations of the NMJ can lead to devastating diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Understanding how the NMJ develops and is maintained is important for human health.
As organisms develop, the synapse and muscle cell need to grow in concert. If one or the other grows too quickly or not quickly enough, it could have dire consequences for the ability of the organism to move and survive. To coordinate development, signals are sent from the neuron to the muscle cell (anterograde signals) and from the muscle cell to the neuron (retrograde signals). However, the identity of these signals and how their release is coordinated is poorly understood.
Normally, the vesicle protein Synaptotagmin 4 (Syt4) is found in both the synapse and the muscle cells. Previous knockout experiments eliminating the Syt4 protein from Drosophila have resulted in stunted NMJs. Suspecting that Syt4 played an important role in retrograde signaling at the developing NMJ, Budnik and colleagues used knockdown experiments to decrease Syt4 protein levels in either the neurons or the muscle cells. Surprisingly, when RNAi was used to knockdown Syt4 in the neurons alone, Syt4 protein was eliminated in both neurons and muscles. The opposi
|Contact: Jim Fessenden|
University of Massachusetts Medical School