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UNC study pinpoints gene controlling number of brain cells
Date:10/4/2009

CHAPEL HILL In populating the growing brain, neural stem cells must strike a delicate balance between two key processes proliferation, in which the cells multiply to provide plenty of starting materials and differentiation, in which those materials evolve into functioning neurons.

If the stem cells proliferate too much, they could grow out of control and produce a tumor. If they proliferate too little, there may not be enough cells to become the billions of neurons of the brain. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have now found that this critical balance rests in large part on a single gene, called GSK-3.

The finding suggests that GSK-3 controls the signals that determine how many neurons actually end up composing the brain. It also has important implications for patients with neuropsychiatric illness, as links have recently been drawn between GSK-3 and schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

One of the genes associated with schizophrenia appears to use GSK-3 as an intermediary to exert its effects on nerve cells. In addition, lithium, a popular treatment for bipolar disorder, acts, in part, by shutting down GSK-3. "I don't believe anyone would have imagined that deleting GSK-3 would have such dramatic effects on neural stem cells," said senior study author William D. Snider, M.D., professor of neurology and cell and molecular physiology, and director of the UNC Neuroscience Center. "People will have to think carefully about whether giving a drug like lithium to children could have negative effects on the underlying structure of the nervous system."

In a study appearing online Sunday October 4th in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Snider and his colleagues created a mouse model in which both forms of the GSK-3 gene designated alpha and beta had been deleted. They decided to go after GSK-3 which stands for glycogen synthase kinase 3 because it is one of t
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Contact: Les Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-966-9366
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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