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UC Davis researchers identify brain protein for synapse development
Date:1/29/2010

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) A new study from UC Davis Health System identifies for the first time a brain protein called SynDIG1 that plays a critical role in creating and sustaining synapses, the complex chemical signaling system responsible for communication between neurons. The research, published in the Jan.14 issue of the journal Neuron, fills a major gap in understanding the molecular foundations of higher cognitive abilities as well as some brain disorders.

"We know that synapses are essential for learning, memory and perception and suspect that imbalances in synapse formation impact disorders of the brain such as autism and schizophrenia," said Elva Diaz, assistant professor of pharmacology and senior author of the study. "Our study is the first to identify SynDIG1 as a critical regulator of these important brain connections."

The majority of synapses in the brain use glutamate as a neurotransmitter. While past research revealed that regulation of a certain class of glutamate receptor -- AMPA receptors -- are critical to communication between neurons, Diaz set out to discover novel molecular mechanisms of AMPA receptors that could support the formation and vitality of synapses.

She began by evaluating a gene (tmem90b) predicted to encode a novel transmembrane protein that is expressed exclusively in the central nervous system and highly similar across vertebrates, but otherwise not well-described. Microarray analyses revealed that this gene was expressed during synapse formation.

"I've always been interested in the discovery of new molecules, especially those with unique paths and intracellular influences," said Diaz, whose work focuses on the molecular mechanisms of brain development. "This is where answers to many disease processes can be found."

Diaz named the protein SynDIG1 -- or the synapse differentiation induced gene product -- and set out to define its role in synapse development. She and a tea
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Contact: Karen Finney
karen.finney@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu
916-734-9064
University of California - Davis - Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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