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Nervous Systems of Insects may Offer Clues on Neurodegenerative Diseases

By studying the addition of sugars to proteins a process called glycosylation in the nervous system of insects, Karen Palter, researcher of Temple University, believes she may be able to better understand neurodegenerative diseases in humans. Currently, her lab is involved in two collaborative research projects exploring the glycosylation process that could eventually play important roles in producing therapeutic drugs more efficiently and understanding neurodegenerative diseases such as epilepsy and memory loss.

Proteins in higher organisms, from fruit flies to humans, which are secreted or displayed on cell surfaces must have sugars attached to them in order to function properly. This glycosylation process is necessary for protein stability, may modulate protein activity and provides recognition sites on cell surface proteins, which is necessary for cell-to-cell interactions.

The glycosylation process fascinates Palter, an associate professor of biology in Temple's College of Science and Technology, who has been studying its biological roles for the past six years.

One project involves growing insect cells outside of the organism and using them to produce human proteins that can be used therapeutically, such as clotting factors.

When I first became involved in this project, the objective was a bio-engineering one, said Palter, a geneticist. We wanted to produce an insect cell line that basically could produce the exact glycosylation pattern that would occur in humans. Because insect cells are missing the last two steps in the glycosylation process, you cant use them to generate therapeutic proteins, even though they are easier and less expensive to use, compared with mammalian cell lines.

Palter, who came to Temple in 1988, says the insect cells must be genetically altered to produce human proteins that have a glycosylation pattern typical of human proteins, and not insect proteins; otherwise
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