"I hope that unraveling the way Skywalker works will not only teach us more about the way neurons communicate with each other but will also lead to new diagnostics and therapies for neurological diseases such as Parkinson's," says Verstreken.
Communication between brain cells
Brain disorders take a major toll on society. More than 8% of the population in the West depends on analgesics. Twenty per cent suffers from a mental disturbance and the number of people suffering from the effects of neurological diseases is estimated at 1 billion. Many of these problems are caused by the disruption of communication between brain cells. Hence, finding a solution depends on understanding this communication in the smallest details.
Communication between brain cells occurs at the synapses, where an electrical signal is passed via a vesicle (a small membrane-enclosed sac with signaling substances). The vesicle releases the signaling substances, thus activating another brain cell.
An eye for the proper balance
The vesicles are reused several times. This results in the gradual degradation of the proteins they need for carrying out their function properly, which in turn affects the release of signaling substances. How the vesicles are kept operational during this recycling process was a mystery until now. Most types of cells have incorporated an extra step into this recycling process via special cell compartments called endosomes. In the endosomes, vesicle proteins are sorted to ensure optimal functioning of the recycled vesicles.
However, it was not clear whether this extra step was relevant for vesicle recycling in brain cells. Various studies seemed to demonstrate that it was in fact missing in brain cells.
Skywalker regulates communication between brain cells
Patrik Verstreken and his colleagues have now discovered an enzyme, christened Skywalker, which regulates this extra step. The VIB researchers tested fr
|Contact: Joris Gansemans |
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)