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Blood vessels: The pied piper for growing nerve cells
Date:4/10/2008

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that blood vessels in the head can guide growing facial nerve cells with blood pressure controlling proteins. The findings, which suggest that blood vessels throughout the body might have the same power of persuasion over many nerves, are published this week in Nature.

Were excited to have stumbled across another family of proteins that can tell a growing nerve which way to grow, says David Ginty, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at Hopkins and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. But the really interesting thing is that the nerves appear to use blood vessels as guideposts to direct their growth in one of several possible directions.

The research team studied in mice a group of about 15,000 nerve cells known as the superior cervical ganglia, or SCG, which extend projections that innervate various structures in the head including the eyes, mouth and salivary glands. The SCG sits in a Y-like branching point of the blood vessel in the neck that supplies the head with blood, the carotid artery. In the developing embryo, nerve projections grow out of the SCG and grow along one of the two branches of the carotid artery; the nerves that grow along the internal carotid innervate the eyes and mouth among other head structures, and those that grow along the external carotid innervate the salivary glands.

To figure out how nerve cells choose to grow along the external carotid artery to innervate the salivary glands, the team looked for genes that appear to be preferentially turned on in the external carotid, and off in the internal carotid. Says Ginty, Theres only two directions they can go and we wanted to know if they choose their direction or if the decision to go one way or the other is random.

They found one gene that is expressed preferentially in the external carotid, a gene that makes the blood pressure regulating protein, endothelin, active. It comes as no surpri
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Contact: Audrey Huang
audrey@jhmi.edu
410-614-5105
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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