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Researchers Map Paths Governing Neuron Function

Findings identify proteins that determine nature of connections between neurons

TUESDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers have mapped thousands of neuronal proteins that are connected in complex signaling networks that control neuron function.

This line of research may help improve understanding of brain development, neurodegenerative diseases, and treatment of spinal cord injuries, a new study says.

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), School of Medicine team used quantitative mass spectrometry, computational software and bioinformatics to match these proteins to their cellular functions.

The researchers developed a way to isolate and purify neurites, which are long membrane extensions from the neuron that give rise to axons (which primarily receive signals) or dendrites (which primarily send signals). This new technology will help improve understanding about how neurites form and differentiate to regenerate neuronal connections.

The UCSD team also discovered how key signaling molecules are regulated by a complex protein network that control neurite outgrowth.

The formation of neurites is the first step in the differentiation of neurons in the central nervous system.

"Understanding how neurites form is crucial, as these structures give rise to the specialized axons and dendrites which relay sensory input and enable us to see, hear, taste, reason and dream," team leader Richard Klemke, a professor of pathology at UCSD School of Medicine and the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, said in a prepared statement.

"Our primary goal is to identify unique proteins that cause the neurite to sprout and differentiate. We also want to understand the underlying signals that guide neurite formation and migration in response to directional cues," Klemke said.

The study was published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about neurons.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Jan. 28, 2008

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