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At the synapse: Gene may shed light on neurological disorders
Date:5/22/2008

MADISON - In our brains, where millions of signals move across a network of neurons like runners in a relay race, all the critical baton passes take place at synapses. These small gaps between nerve cell endings have to be just the right size for messages to transmit properly. Synapses that grow too large or too small are associated with motor and cognitive impairment, learning and memory difficulties, and other neurological disorders.

In a finding that sheds light on this system, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe a gene that controls the proper development of synapses, which could help explain how the process works and why it sometimes goes wrong.

Reporting today in the journal Neuron, a team of geneticists in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences reveal the role of a gene in fruit flies called "nervous wreck" that prevents synapses from overgrowing by damping the effects of a pro-growth signal. Mutations in a human version of "nervous wreck" have been linked to a severe genetic developmental disability, and these findings may eventually help scientists develop treatments for this and other neurological disorders.

"The precise regulation of synaptic growth - not too much and not too little - is a complex biological process," says Kate O'Connor-Giles, a postdoctoral fellow in the genetics department who led the study. "We really need to have a deep understanding of how all the factors involved are working together to develop rational treatments for neurological disorders associated with aberrant synaptic growth."

That's no small task. The brain is the most complex organ in the body, containing a hundred billion nerve cells that branch out and make trillions of connections to other neurons, muscle cells and other cell types. Although an estimated 50 million Americans have some kind of neurological disorder, in the majority of cases the underlying cause is unknown. Improper synaptic growth
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Contact: Kate O'Connor-Giles
oconnorgiles@wisc.edu
608-262-3896
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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