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UT Southwestern researchers uncover Fragile X syndrome gene's role in shaping brain
Date:5/7/2010

DALLAS May 11, 2010 Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered how the genetic mutation that causes Fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation, interferes with the "pruning" of nerve connections in the brain. Their findings appear in the April 29 issue of Neuron.

Soon after birth, the still-developing brain of a mammal produces too many nerve connections that create "noise" in the nervous system. The brain finds it hard to process these signals, like a person trying to have a conversation at a loud party. But as the brain matures and learning takes place, some nerve connections naturally become stronger while others weaken and die, leading to an adult with a properly wired brain.

Fragile X is caused by a mutation in a single gene, Fmr1, on the X chromosome. The gene codes for a protein called FMRP, which plays a role in learning and memory but whose full function is unknown. The protein's role in pruning nerve connections had been unclear.

"I think we've uncovered a core function for the gene involved in this disease, and if we can find other biochemical methods involved in nerve pruning, we might be able to help correct this," said Dr. Kimberly Huber, associate professor of neuroscience at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study.

In the current study, Dr. Huber and her colleagues examined nerve cells isolated from mice that had been engineered to lack the Fmr1 gene and, therefore, did not produce FMRP protein. They then tested whether the lack of FMRP affected the functions of another protein called MEF2, which is known to be involved in pruning nerve connections.

The researchers found that nerve cells lacking FMRP were unable to respond to MEF2. Adding FMRP to the cells restored MEF2's normal function.

"We were massively activating the MEF2 gene in the cell, and it did absolutely nothing without FMRP," Dr. Huber said. Such an all-or-nothing
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Contact: Aline McKenzie
aline.mckenzie@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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