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How nerve cells stay in shape

oteins are produced at the synapse. A prerequisite for protein synthesis, however, is that the mRNAs carrying the "blueprint" of the protein actually arrive at the synapse. The mRNAs have to be recognized by special RNA-binding proteins and transported to the synapses, which in some cases are a considerable distance from the cell body. Staufen2 protein is involved in this transport process.

Bernhard Goetze and Paolo Macchi have, for the first time, shown that the protein Staufen2 is required to maintain synapses. The researchers knocked-down different proteins in the nerve cells. If the brain-specific Staufen2 protein was missing, the architecture of the synapses was severely disturbed. Instead of a number of mushroom-shaped dendritic spines, the cell only produced long, thin protuberances (see image 2), similar in shape to immature synapses. A more detailed analysis of the actin cytoskeleton offered the first evidence for a possible explanation for the observed synapse changes. Actin is a central protein in the cell's skeleton, which keeps synapses in shape. Formless synapses in Staufen2-deficient nerve cells have significantly fewer actin fibres than normal synapses. The mRNA for actin is normally transported into dendrites and locally translated into protein there. If there is no Staufen2 to function as a transport protein in the nerve cells, a lesser amount of mRNA makes it to the synapse - this could explain its altered shape.

"We wanted to know if Staufen2-deficient nerve cells can still transmit signals," explains Michael Kiebler. In order to determine this, researchers collaborated with Stefan Boehm's group at the Medical University of Vienna's Institute of Pharmacology. Measurements of electrical activity at individual synapses showed impaired signal transmission in cells lacking Staufen2 protein. "This was important evidence that Staufen2 is necessary for the formation of functional synapses in nerve cells," Kiebler says. His group thus cre
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Source:Max-Planck-Gesellschaft


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