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Brain Protein Tied to Retardation

Growth factor could help cells communicate with each other, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've gained new insight into how a growth factor -- a kind of protein that tells a cell what to do -- could lead to mental retardation.

The scientists hope their findings could lead to a new treatment.

Previous research has shown that there are unusual numbers of so-called dendritic spines in the brain cells of people with mental retardation. The shape of the spines is abnormal, too.

The spines help brain cells communicate with each other.

Baoji Xu, an associate professor in the pharmacology department at Georgetown University Medical Center, found in earlier research that a kind of growth factor known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor controls the number and shape of dendritic spines used in spatial learning and memory.

In a new study, Xu and fellow researchers showed that they were able to stop the growth factor from being transported to the dendritic spines in mice. Their finding was scheduled to be presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, Oct. 17-21 in Chicago.

The researchers speculate that they may be on track toward developing a treatment for mental retardation based upon boosting the growth factors.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on developmental disabilities.

SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, Oct. 20, 2009

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