For the first time, USC scientists have mapped out a neuroreceptor. This scientific breakthrough promises to revolutionize the engineering of drugs used to treat ailments such as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.
The team produced the world's first high-resolution images of the α7 (Alpha 7) receptor, a molecule responsible for transmitting signals between neurons particularly in regions of the brain believed to be associated with learning and memory.
Using the image, scientists will be better equipped to design pharmaceuticals specifically to interact with the receptor, instead of blindly using a trial-and-error approach.
"A lot of interest in this work will come from pharmaceutical companies," said corresponding author Lin Chen, professor of biological sciences and chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "They really have no clear picture of this. They don't know how or why [their drugs] work."
The high-resolution image will also help neuroscience researchers study how these receptors receive and transmit neuronal signals, a question that has puzzled researchers for decades.
The article, co-authored with scientists from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, appears in Nature Neuroscience this month.
The findings follow up on Chen's earlier landmark achievement, deciphering the inner workings of a nicotine receptor in 2007.
Developing an image of the α7 receptor was no simple task, which is partly why it has taken until now to achieve this despite the wide interest in the understanding the receptor's structure. Attempts to decipher neuroreceptors have been ongoing for 30 years.
"This has been a longstanding challenge," Chen said. The challenge is twofold, he said. It is difficult to obtain enough receptor protein for structural analysis, and the flexible nature of these receptors makes them difficul
|Contact: Robert Perkins|
University of Southern California