The findings also raise questions about how the two proteins interact physically. MEF2 works in the nucleus of a cell, where it controls whether other genes are turned on or off. FMRP shuttles in and out of the cell's nucleus and into its main body.
"This opens up new ideas about how processes in the cell's nucleus, near its DNA, can affect the nerve connections, which are very far away at the other end of the cell," Dr. Huber said. "We think MEF2 is making messenger RNA [ribonucleic acid], which translates the genetic code of the DNA, and FMRP is binding to the RNA and either transporting it to the nerve connections and/or controlling how the RNA makes protein."
Further research will focus on the relationship between the proteins. For instance, one might directly control the other, or they might work together on a common target, Dr. Huber said.
"This work might not have clinical implications for quite a while," she said. "The goal for us as scientists is to understand how these genes relate to mechanisms that control the development of nerve connections."
Like other genetic diseases carried on the X chromosome, Fragile X syndrome strikes boys more often and more severely than girls. Girls have two X chromosomes, so a normal gene on one chromosome can mitigate the effects of the disease if the gene on the other X chromosome is abnormal. Boys, however, have only one X chromosome, so if they inherit an abnormal gene on the X chromosome, they have no protection.
|Contact: Aline McKenzie|
UT Southwestern Medical Center