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Specific brain protein required for nerve cell connections to form and function
Date:9/5/2007

for the production of certain neurexin proteins. Deleting just one of these genes causes no adverse effects in mouse models, while removing all three is fatal. But fruit flies have only one gene for neurexin, and when Bhat and colleagues deleted the gene, the flies survived barely.

"Knocking out neurexin basically resulted in a fly with defective nervous system said Bhat, also a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center and the UNC Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center.

First of all, the mutated fruit flies had trouble moving around. When the researchers examined the synapses in these flies, they found that half of them were gone. The synapses that remained were deformed, causing them to send out less chemical signals. The researchers, led by Jingjun Li, a graduate student in neurobiology in the UNC School of Medicine, concluded that neurexin is required for the growth of synapses, for the maintenance of their structure and for their function.

Currently, Bhat and other scientists are working to identify the proteins that neurexin binds to, how they interact, and what sequence of events ultimately results in the organization of synapses within nerve cells. The hope is that such studies in Drosophila will one day clarify the role neurexin plays in learning and memory, ultimately leading to a better understanding of how defects in this protein can lead to human disorders such as autism, Bhat said.


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Contact: Les Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-843-9687
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert

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