Nav: Home

A molecule that directs neurons

March 24, 2020

The habenula is a small region at the centre of the brain, but is crucial for people's lives. It is made up of groups of nerve cells that control the "neurotransmitters" of the brain, that is to say substances like dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. The release of these substances is fundamental to respond to stimuli, for example to perceive pain or fear and to regulate mood-related behaviours, and is implicated in conditions like schizophrenia, autism and depression.

Scientists have known the habenula for a long time, but little is known about its implications in nervous system conditions. And that is precisely what a genetic study coordinated by the University of Trento, whose results were published in "Development", a scientific journal of developmental biology, set out to explore.

The research work was mainly performed at the Laboratory of translational neurogenetics with support from the Laboratory of molecular and cellular ophthalmology led by Lucia Poggi of Cibio, the Department of Cellular, computational and integrative biology of the University of Trento, in collaboration with the universities of Heidelberg (Matthias Carl was working there before moving to Trento) and Padova.

Matthias Carl, coordinator of the study, explained: "The brain is enormously complex and billions of neurons are generated in a perfect symphony with precise connections among them. When something goes wrong in this process there can be devastating consequences to our daily life and behaviour, which can cause for instance diseases like schizophrenia, autism or depression. The habenula, which is present in all vertebrate animals from fish to humans, is an important brain structure associated to these conditions. It functions like a post-office as it releases the "neurotransmitters", the chemical substances, that direct the symphony".

The research team identified a molecule that is essential for the correct composition of habenula neurons and their connectivity in the brain. This molecule (Wnt inhibitory factor 1, Wif1), which is a well-known tumour suppressor, plays a key role also in this symphony of neurons and their proper functioning, and may be implicated in autism. This knowledge, linking the molecule, brain structure and a number of neurological disorders, opens new directions for research into brain disorders, hopefully to find out more about serious conditions that can only be treated in ways that take a toll on the quality of life of people.
-end-
About the article

The article "Temporal control of Wnt signaling is required for habenular neuron diversity and brain asymmetry" was published on the 16th March 2020 in "Development", a peer-reviewed scientific journal of developmental biology.

The authors are Luca Guglielmi (Heidelberg University, Medical Faculty Mannheim); Enrico Moro and Francesco Argenton (University of Padova, Department of Biomedical Sciences); Anja Bühler, Lucia Poggi and Matthias Carl (University of Trento, Cibio - Department of Cellular, computational and integrative biology).

Università di Trento

Related Autism Articles:

Autism-cholesterol link
Study identifies genetic link between cholesterol alterations and autism.
National Autism Indicators Report: the connection between autism and financial hardship
A.J. Drexel Autism Institute released the 2020 National Autism Indicators Report highlighting the financial challenges facing households of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including higher levels of poverty, material hardship and medical expenses.
Autism risk estimated at 3 to 5% for children whose parents have a sibling with autism
Roughly 3 to 5% of children with an aunt or uncle with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can also be expected to have ASD, compared to about 1.5% of children in the general population, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Adulthood with autism
The independence that comes with growing up can be scary for any teenager, but for young adults with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers, the transition from adolescence to adulthood can seem particularly daunting.
Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.
Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.