Myasthenia gravis, which paralyzes previously healthy individuals, targets these protein workers. The condition, which can run in families, likely results from a process called mimicry in which the immune system starts making antibodies to the workers, which it confuses with a previous viral or bacterial infection. The majority of patients have antibodies to acetylcholine receptors and a smaller percentage have antibodies to MuSK. Most recently, GHSU researchers also helped identify LRP4 as an antibody target.
The scientists already are looking at the impact of the antibodies on the LRP4 complex. Understanding its unique structure is essential to designing drugs that could one day block such attacks. "Prior to this we had no idea how they interacted," Mei said.
In addition to providing new information on muscle diseases, this study might also have a far-reaching ripple effect in the field of neuroscience.
"This is just the beginning," says Jin. "Now that we know more about how signals are transferred during the formation of neuromuscular junctions, we can start looking at how a similar system might work in brain synapses and how it malfunctions in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. If we can figure out how to trigger the formation of new brain synapses, maintain old synapses, or simply slow their disappearance, we'd be much better equipped to prevent or treat these diseases."
To reveal the novel mechanism, researchers used a technique known as X-ray crystallography, which produces 3-D "pictures" of protein at the atomic level using powerful X-ray beams.
|Contact: Toni Baker|
Georgia Health Sciences University