Switching off a key DNA repair system in the developing nervous system is linked to smaller brain size as well as problems in brain structures vital to movement, memory and emotion, according to new research led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists.
The work, published in the August issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, also provides the first evidence that cells known as cerebellar interneurons are targeted for DNA damage and are a likely source of neurological problems in humans. The cerebellum coordinates movement and balance. The cerebellar interneurons fine tune motor control.
"These data will be important for understanding the role the DNA damage response plays in preventing neurological disease," the investigators wrote.
The study also marks the first time researchers have switched off a pathway for repairing damaged single DNA strands in an organ system, in this case the mouse brain and nervous system. While the results suggest certain brain cells are particularly vulnerable, investigators report that with time DNA damage accumulates throughout the nervous system. Some mice in the study eventually develop seizures and difficulty walking.
Peter J. McKinnon, Ph.D., a member of St. Jude Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology, said the work provides a new model for understanding how single-strand DNA damage affects the nervous system and offers a new focus for tracking the origins of neurological disease.
The research also reflects growing scientific interest in damage to single strands of DNA. "A variety of human disease syndromes result from problems in the DNA-repair system," explained McKinnon, the paper's senior author.
DNA is the double-stranded molecule found in nearly every cell. In organisms both simple and complex, it serves as the biochemical blueprint for assembling and sustaining life. Diseases like cancer have long been associated with unrepaired damage to both strands of
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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital