From bacteria to lions – how tiny proteins which control our responses to both could be linked

July 29, 2013

New research from the University of Birmingham and the University of Cambridge has uncovered a relationship between proteins that control immunity and proteins that control activity in the brain.

The research looks at the way in which selected members of the Toll receptor family of proteins acts in – an animal which shares 75 per cent of disease causing with humans.

The Toll were first discovered in the fruit flies, called Drosophilia, and are vitally important in humans as they help to control innate immunity – preventing us from becoming ill every time we come into contact with .

The researchers discovered that two members of the Toll family in the fruit flies were not acting to fight bacteria, but were affecting formation of the instead. In addition, they were interacting with fly neurotrophin proteins, and binding to them.

In humans, neurotrophins are proteins that help form the as we develop and grow, and control synaptic activity in the adult brain, and many psychiatric and are associated with neurotrophin problems.

If the same relationship between the Toll and neurotrophin protein families is observed in humans as in fruit flies, it could pave the way for new avenues of research looking at links between immunity and brain illnesses, like neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases.

The new relationship also suggests that the Toll and neurotrophin proteins, which have been found in organisms that share a common ancestor dating back 500million years, may form part of common ancient mechanism of formation of the nervous and immune systems.

Dr Alicia Hidalgo, from the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, said.

"If both Tolls and neutrophins originated from the same genetic toolkit, it would not be surprising, as they are both about defining the self as different from other living things.

"The Tolls defend the body from the tiniest – bacteria – while the neutrophins control the brain and enable behaviour, such as 'fight or flight', defending the body from the biggest, like lions."

These findings are important in understanding how the brain originated and how it evolved – such as to what extent the fly brain is similar or different from the human brain - how it is formed and how it works.

The findings also now pave the way for more research, to see if the same relationship between these protein families does exist in humans. This could have important implications for understanding brain function and brain disease.

Explore further: Researchers develop new system to study trigger of cell death in nervous system

More information: Nature Neuroscience DOI: 10.1038/nn.3474

Related Stories

A new strategy required in the search for Alzheimer's drugs?

May 24, 2013

In the search for medication against Alzheimer's disease, scientists have focused – among other factors – on drugs that can break down Amyloid beta (A-beta). After all, it is the accumulation of A-beta that causes the ...

Researchers identify 'switch' for long-term memory

July 9, 2013

Neurobiologists at Heidelberg University have identified calcium in the cell nucleus to be a cellular "switch" responsible for the formation of long-term memory. Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model, the ...

Recommended for you

Scientists transform lower-body cells into facial cartilage

June 27, 2016

Caltech scientists have converted cells of the lower-body region into facial tissue that makes cartilage, in new experiments using bird embryos. The researchers discovered a "gene circuit," composed of just three genes, that ...

Indicator of chronic fatigue syndrome found in gut bacteria

June 27, 2016

Physicians have been mystified by chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition where normal exertion leads to debilitating fatigue that isn't alleviated by rest. There are no known triggers, and diagnosis requires lengthy tests ...

Finding new clues to a sugar suspect in birth defects

June 22, 2016

Most pregnant women with well-controlled diabetes give birth to healthy children. But their babies run much higher risks of birth defects than babies born to women without diabetes, because very early in embryonic development, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.