New genetic marker makes fruit fly a better model for brain development and diseases

November 12, 2010

The brain, a complex network

The human brain is composed of 100 billion individual nerve cells which communicate with each other via a complex network of connections. Errors in communications of these cells are often at the basis of brain and nerve diseases such as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. In the search for possible solutions to these diseases, one important aspect is to understand how the connections between nerve cells develop.

Drosophila as a model organism

The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is an important, low-cost model organism with 60% genetic similarity with humans. The fruit fly plays a significant role in clarifying various neurological processes such as the way our memory works and our sense of smell and in studying particular neurodegenerative diseases. The team headed by Bassem Hassan uses the fruit fly as a model to study brain development.

DenMark, the missing key

Though Drosophila has long been used to study the connections between nerve cells, one specific marker was still missing. To understand the whole circuit between nerve cells, markers are needed for the different compartments of nerve cells (presynaptic or output cells and postsynaptic or input cells).

Under the direction of Bassem Hassan and in collaboration with Wim Annaert, Laura Nicolaï, Ariane Ramaekers and their colleagues have identified the missing marker, DenMark (Dendritic Marker), a hybrid of a mouse protein and a fluorescent protein. The high specificity of such a marker for the input compartment of the nerve cells in Drosophila gives rise to hope that it can also be used in other model organisms.

What is a synapse?

Nerve cells communicate via a synapse. A synapse is a space in the connection between nerve cells, more specifically the space between the presynaptic membrane (of an axon) and the postsynaptic membrane (of a dendrite). Axons conduct away from the cell, dendrites (usually) to it. The "message is transmitted" via the synapse by neurotransmitters.
-end-
Scientific publication

Genetically encoded dendritic marker sheds light on neuronal connectivity in Drosophila - PNAS - Nicolaï et al. - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/11/03/1010198107

Financing

This research was financed by FWO, Methusalem grant K.U.Leuven, IWT and VIB.

Notes to the editor

1. More information

Joris Gansemans, VIB Press Office +32 472 594 067
Bassem Hassan, VIB Group leader +32 16 34 62 26
Laura Nicolaï, VIB Scientist +32 16 33 01 32

http://www.vib.be/en/research/scientists/Pages/Bassem-Hassan-Lab.aspx

2. About VIB

VIB is a non-profit research institute in the life sciences in Flanders, Belgium, with 1200 scientists conducting strategic basic research on the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the functioning of the human body, plants, and micro-organisms. Through a partnership with four Flemish universities - Ghent University, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the University of Antwerp, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel − and a solid funding program, VIB unites the forces of 72 research groups in a single institute. Through its technology transfer activities, VIB strives to convert the research results into products for the benefit of consumers and patients. VIB develops and disseminates a wide range of scientifically substantiated information about all aspects of biotechnology. For more information, please visit www.vib.be.

3. About K.U.Leuven

The University of Leuven is Belgium's largest university and one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1425. It is a comprehensive university with 14 faculties, with a long tradition of high-quality interdisciplinary research and teaching. The University of Leuven has over 33,000 students (12 percent international) and over 17,000 staff members (8,600 in the various university departments and 8,700 at UZ Leuven, the university hospital). More info at: www.kuleuven.be

VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Related Nerve Cells Articles from Brightsurf:

Nerve cells let others "listen in"
How many ''listeners'' a nerve cell has in the brain is strictly regulated.

Nerve cells with energy saving program
Thanks to a metabolic adjustment, the cells can remain functional despite damage to the mitochondria.

Why developing nerve cells can take a wrong turn
Loss of ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme leads to impediment in growth of nerve cells / Link found between cellular machineries of protein degradation and regulation of the epigenetic landscape in human embryonic stem cells

Unique fingerprint: What makes nerve cells unmistakable?
Protein variations that result from the process of alternative splicing control the identity and function of nerve cells in the brain.

Ragweed compounds could protect nerve cells from Alzheimer's
As spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, many people are cursing ragweed, a primary culprit in seasonal allergies.

Fooling nerve cells into acting normal
In a new study, scientists at the University of Missouri have discovered that a neuron's own electrical signal, or voltage, can indicate whether the neuron is functioning normally.

How nerve cells control misfolded proteins
Researchers have identified a protein complex that marks misfolded proteins, stops them from interacting with other proteins in the cell and directs them towards disposal.

The development of brain stem cells into new nerve cells and why this can lead to cancer
Stem cells are true Jacks-of-all-trades of our bodies, as they can turn into the many different cell types of all organs.

Research confirms nerve cells made from skin cells are a valid lab model for studying disease
Researchers from the Salk Institute, along with collaborators at Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine, have shown that cells from mice that have been induced to grow into nerve cells using a previously published method have molecular signatures matching neurons that developed naturally in the brain.

Bees can count with just four nerve cells in their brains
Bees can solve seemingly clever counting tasks with very small numbers of nerve cells in their brains, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Read More: Nerve Cells News and Nerve Cells Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.