In a process akin to belling an infinitesimal cat, scientists have managed to tag a protein that regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin with tiny fluorescent beads, allowing them to track the movements of single molecules for the first time.
The capability, which took nearly a decade to achieve, makes it possible to study the dynamics of serotonin regulation at a new level of detail, which is important because of the key role that serotonin plays in the regulation of mood, appetite and sleep.
The achievement was reported by an interdisciplinary team of Vanderbilt scientists in the June 27 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
The regulatory protein that the scientists successfully tagged is known as the serotonin transporter. This is a protein that extends through the membrane that forms the nerve's outer surface and acts like a nano-sized vacuum cleaner that sucks serotonin molecules into the cell body and away from serotonin target receptors on other cells. In this fashion it helps regulate the concentration of serotonin in the area around the cell. Serotonin transporters are an important research subject because they are the target for the most common drugs used to treat depression, including Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro.
"If you are interested in mental health, then serotonin transporters are an ideal subject," said Sandra Rosenthal, the Jack and Pamela Egan Chair of Chemistry, who directed the study with Randy Blakely, the Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry.
Problems with serotonin transporter regulation have also been implicated in autism. Two years ago, Blakely and geneticist James Sutcliffe, associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, reported the discovery of multiple changes in the serotonin transporter protein that cause the transporter to become "overactive" in subjects with autism. Recently, Blakely and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele
|Contact: David Salisbury|