Nav: Home

Researchers uncover a novel link between genetics and movement control

October 22, 2015

A small molecule in cells that was previously believed to have no impact on animal behaviour could in fact be responsible for controlling precise movements, according to new University of Sussex research.

The team at Sussex, led by Dr Claudio Alonso, found that fruit flies had difficulty in righting themselves when placed upside down after changes were made to tiny pieces of their genetic material encoding microRNAs (miRNAs).

MiRNAs are molecules encoded in the genome of all animals, including humans, that regulate the activity of individual genes.

MiRNAs have been shown to affect the formation of the nervous system, but the Sussex-led research due to be published on-line in Science on Thursday (22 October) is the first to show that they might also have very specific roles in controlling certain movements.

Dr Alonso, a Wellcome Trust Investigator and Reader in Developmental Genetics in the School of Life Sciences, explains: "We know very little about how simple movements are encoded in the genome.

"Yet, the survival of all animals - including humans - strongly depends on our ability to perform simple movements since the moment of birth, such as primitive reflexes essential for feeding."

"This knowledge might in the long-term contribute to the understanding of the underlying mechanisms of human disorders of the nervous system that lead to loss of movement coordination, such as Parkinson's disease."

The researchers had originally tried 'switching off' individual microRNA molecules to investigate how this affected the formation of fruit flies' nervous systems.

When they found no apparent effects on the structure of the nervous system of fruit flies lacking the miRNA, they instead investigated whether the nervous system 'worked' properly.

This was when they discovered that fruit flies lacking a specific miRNA could not correct their position when placed upside down.

Dr Alonso and his team are now turning their attention to whether different miRNA molecules could be responsible for other movements both in the fruit fly and in other organisms.

Fruit flies are small insects that are often used for genetic research as they reproduce quickly, are easy to breed in laboratory conditions and share many of the same fundamental mechanisms and pathways found in more complex organisms such as humans.

The research was primarily carried out by Dr Joao Picao-Osorio and Dr Alonso, and was further strengthened by Dr Jamie Johnston (also at Sussex) and Drs Matthias Landgraf and Jimena Berni at the University of Cambridge.
-end-
Notes for editors

'MircoRNA-encoded behaviour in Drosophila' is published online in Science on 22 October 2015

University of Sussex Press Office: Ben Steele and Jacqui Bealing, 01273 678888, press@sussex.ac.uk. Follow us on Twitter at @SussexUniPress.

University of Sussex

Related Nervous System Articles:

Glial cells play an active role in the nervous system
Researchers at Münster University, Germany, have discovered that glial cells - one of the main components of the brain -not only control the speed of nerve conduction, but also influence the precision of signal transduction in the brain.
Protein produced by the nervous system may help treatments for inflammatory diseases
A Rutgers-led team discover a protein produced by nervous system may be key to treating inflammatory diseases like asthma, allergies, chronic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COVID-19 may attack patients' central nervous system
''There may be more central nervous system penetration of the virus than we think based on the prevalence of olfaction-associated depressed mood and anxiety and this really opens up doors for future investigations to look at how the virus may interact with the central nervous system,'' explains Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, PhD.
Lifting weights makes your nervous system stronger, too
Gym-goers may get frustrated when they don't see results from weightlifting right away, but their efforts are not in vain: the first few weeks of training strengthen the nervous system, not muscles.
COVID-19 threatens the entire nervous system
A new review of neurological symptoms of COVID-19 patients in current scientific literature reveals the disease poses a global threat to the entire nervous system.
Fewer scars in the central nervous system
Researchers have discovered the influence of the coagulation factor fibrinogen on the damaged brain.
Polymerized estrogen shown to protect nervous system cells
In research published today in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrated how estrogen -- a natural hormone produced in the body -- can be polymerized into a slow-releasing biomaterial and applied to nervous system cells to protect those cells and even promote regeneration.
Discovery concerning the nervous system overturns a previous theory
It appears that when our nervous system is developing, only the most viable neurons survive, while immature neurons are weeded out and die.
Autonomic nervous system appears to function well regardless of mode of childbirth
'In a low-risk group of babies born full-term, the autonomic nervous system and cortical systems appear to function well regardless of whether infants were exposed to labor prior to birth,' says Sarah B.
First step to induce self-repair in the central nervous system
Injured axons instruct Schwann cells to build specialized actin spheres to break down and remove axon fragments, thereby starting the regeneration process.
More Nervous System News and Nervous System 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.