Boston, MA (July 28, 2011) Researchers have developed a toolkit that enables them to turn off targeted cell populations while leaving others unaffected.
Led by Susan Dymecki, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, the group focused on serotonin-producing neurons, observing how mice behave in a normal environment when suddenly their serotonin neurons are turned down. While their findings affirm earlier studies, the researchers used a technique that is non-invasive and does not require anesthesia, surgeries, or knocking out a geneeach of which can cause problems when interpreting results.
"By selectively and abruptly switching off the serotonin-producing cells, we can get a definite idea of what bodily functions the serotonin cells specifically control," said Dymecki. "These findings and the new tools in neuroscience that it brings to the table will help us understand the role of serotonergic neurons in many human disorders."
One such disorder particularly relevant to these findings is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.
These findings will appear in the July 29 edition of the journal Science.
The mammalian brain contains multiple chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which transfer information between nerve cells in order to regulate basic behaviors and functions like walking, eating, and sleeping. Serotonin is a major brain neurotransmitter produced solely by cells in the lower brain, or brainstem. Cells that make serotonin can convey information to large numbers of neurons distributed throughout the brain and can affect behavior as complex as mood.
In order to better understand how these serotonin-producing cells in the brain relate to basic physiology, Russell Ray and Rachael Brust, a postdoctoral researcher and a graduate student in Dymecki's lab, along with Jun Chul Kim, a prior postdoctoral fellow in Dymecki's lab who is now at the University of Toronto, and Andrea Co
|Contact: David Cameron|
Harvard Medical School