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Evolution and epilepsy
Date:1/21/2009

ed section of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin expressed his complete inability to explain why such a diversity of animals appeared so rapidly in the Cambrian period, the so-called Cambrian Explosion. Scientists have more recently advanced theories for this based on changes in the Earth's environment, or evolution in the genes controlling animal body form. The new PLoS Genetics study, suggests Cooper, points to an additional factor that might come into play: evolutionary changes to the nervous systems of early animals, such as sodium channel clustering, which led to new behaviors such as improved swimming and predation.

This research provides a vivid example of the ability of evolution to build very complex structures through a series of incremental steps. "The vertebrate axon is elegant and extremely intricate, with a central fiber contributed by a neuron and a jelly-roll like myelin wrapping made by other cells called glia," says Cooper. It was previously unknown which came first, the channel clustering on the neuron, or the myelin wrapping.

"Our studies show that the sodium channel clustering evolved first, perhaps 100 million years before myelin," says Cooper. "Myelin appeared, like potassium channel clustering, in an ancestor of the shark. This interval provides plenty of time for the molecules necessary for myelination to evolve. Each step made the nerve faster, and more reliable and efficient, because the sodium channel clusters were already present on the axon."


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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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