June 4, 2009

MR protein controls synapse development

U.S. neuroscientists say they have determined a signaling protein linked to mental retardation also controls synapse maturation and plasticity.

Researchers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory demonstrated the mechanism by which the protein oligophrenin-1 controls the maturation and strength of excitatory synapses, the tiny gaps across which the majority of neurons communicate.

The scientists said their discovery is important, in part because deficits of that signaling protein have been previously identified with X-linked mental retardation.

Great progress has been made in recent years in the identification of chromosomal abnormalities and genetic changes involved in mental retardation, Professor Linda Van Aelst, who led the study, said. We know of at least 280 genes that are implicated, in fact. But what we have not done, to date, is connect the genetic abnormalities associated with MR to biological processes that establish and modify the function of neuronal circuits.

The research is reported in the journal Genes & Development.