Coral Gables, Fla (Feb. 19, 2014) -- There are more than a trillion cells called neurons that form a labyrinth of connections in our brains. Each of these neurons contains millions of proteins that perform different functions. Exactly how individual proteins interact to form the complex networks of the brain still remains as a mystery that is just beginning to unravel.
For the first time, a group of scientists has been able to observe intact interactions between proteins, directly in the brain of a live animal. The new live imaging approach was developed by a team of researchers at the University of Miami (UM).
"Our ultimate goal is to create the systematic survey of protein interactions in the brain," says Akira Chiba, professor of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and lead investigator of the project. "Now that the genome project is complete, the next step is to understand what the proteins coded by our genes do in our body."
The new technique will allow scientists to visualize the interactions of proteins in the brain of an animal, along different points throughout its development, explains Chiba, who likens protein interactions to the way organisms associate with each other.
"We know that proteins are one billionth of a human in size. Nevertheless, proteins make networks and interact with each other, like social networking humans do," Chiba says. "The scale is very different, but it's the same behavior happening among the basic units of a given network."
The researchers chose embryos of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) as an ideal model for the study. Because of its compact and transparent body, it is possible to visualize processes inside the Drosophila cells using a fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope (FLIM). The results of the observations are applicable to other animal brains, including the human brain.
The Drosophila embryos in the study contained a pair of fluorescent labeled
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University of Miami