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Study shows gene's role in developing and maintaining cells key for a lifetime of memories
Date:8/18/2010

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital investigators showed a gene named Prox1 is a key player in normal development of a brain structure crucial for learning and memory and remains active throughout life, nurturing the cells vital for making new memories.

This study focused on a small region of the hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus, a brain structure needed for memory and learning that is home to the subgranular zone where the neural stem cells destined to become granule cells are housed. The dentate gyrus is one of two regions of the adult brain where neural stem cells continue to produce the precursor cells that ultimately differentiate into neurons.

Although investigators knew Prox1 was expressed during development of the dentate gyrus, this is the first report detailing the gene's function in this region of the brain. Prox1 is a transcription factor that functions like an on-off switch for genes.

Researchers showed that by removing Prox1 at different stages of mouse development, the dentate gyrus fails to develop properly. Investigators also demonstrated that Prox1 remains important throughout mammalian life to ensure production of new granule cells, which are needed to form new memories. The work appears in the August 17 edition of PloS Biology.

The findings raise the possibility that subtle mutations in Prox1 might be linked to memory and learning problems, said the paper's senior author Guillermo Oliver, Ph.D., member of the St. Jude Department of Genetics. "The more we understand about how signaling pathways work in the brain, the more we will eventually be able to manipulate the system to promote or block the differentiation process," he said.

Although this is the first detailed report of the role Prox1 plays in normal brain development, earlier studies suggest the gene is central to normal development in a wide range of organs and cell types. Prox1 also plays a role in several types of cancers.
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Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-595-3061
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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