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Zebrafish provide insights into causes and treatment of human diseases
Date:7/6/2012

mising preliminary results with mice showing reduced cell death and improved cardiac function, indicating that these compounds may also be active in mammals and giving hope for therapies that specifically treat doxorubicin's side effects without negating its anti-tumor activity.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a group of progressive neurodegenerative diseases that affect the nerves in the spinal cord that control muscles, leading to weakness, movement difficulties, poor posture, and trouble breathing and eating.

SMA is linked to mutations in a specific motor neuron survival gene, SMN1. Though mouse studies have reported immature and ineffective synaptic connections between motor neurons and muscles, little is known about the molecular mechanisms leading to those problems or how they might be fixed.

Graduate student Kelvin See, working with Associate Professor Christoph Winkler, Ph.D., at the National University of Singapore used zebrafish with activity-sensitive fluorescence to provide a visual readout of motor neuron activation. They confirmed that low SMN1 levels are associated with low neuronal influx of calcium ions, which play a critical role in triggering neurotransmitter release and thus stimulating the muscles. With their zebrafish model, Mr. See and Dr. Winkler also identified another gene with a similar effect, neurexin, which is important in synaptic structure but had never been implicated in SMA.

In a surprise discovery, the researchers found they could use the same sensor to see activation of a neighboring cell type called Schwann cells. "This gives us the unique opportunity to look at the role of SMN1 not just in motor neurons but also in the surrounding tissue," said Mr. See.

They saw reduced excitability in Schwann cells also, suggesting that a full understanding of SMA will require a broader view of the affected cell populations. Their results provide several new insi
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Contact: Phyllis Edelman
pedelman@genetics-gsa.org
301-634-7302
Genetics Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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