A gene linked to disease found to play a critical role in normal memory development

It has been more than 20 years since scientists discovered that mutations in the gene huntingtin cause the devastating progressive neurological condition Huntington's disease, which involves involuntary movements, emotional disturbance and cognitive impairment. Surprisingly little, however, has been known about the gene's role in normal brain activity.

Now, a study from The Scripps Research Institute's (TSRI's) Florida campus and Columbia University shows it plays a critical role in .

"We found that huntingtin expression levels are necessary for what is known as long-term synaptic plasticity—the ability of the synapses to grow and change—which is critical to the formation of long-term memory," said TSRI Assistant Professor Sathyanarayanan V. Puthanveettil, who led the study with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel of Columbia University.

In the study, published recently by the journal PLOS ONE, the team identified an equivalent of the human huntingtin protein in the marine snail Aplysia, a widely used animal model in genetic studies, and found that, just like its human counterpart, the protein in Aplysia is widely expressed in neurons throughout the central nervous system.

Using cellular models, the scientists studied what is known as the sensory-to-motor neuron synapse of Aplysia—in this case, gill withdrawal, a defensive move that occurs when the animal is disturbed.

The study found that the expression of messenger RNAs of huntingtin—messenger RNAs are used to produce proteins from instructions coded in genes—is increased by serotonin, a neurotransmitter released during learning in Aplysia. After knocking down production of the huntingtin protein, neurons failed to function normally.

"During the learning, production of the huntingtin mRNAs is increased both in pre- and post-synaptic neurons—that is a new finding," Puthanveettil said. "And if you block production of the protein either in pre- or post-synaptic neuron, you block formation of memory."

The findings could have implications for the development of future treatments of Huntington's disease. While the full biological functions of the are not yet fully understood, the results caution against a therapeutic approach that attempts to eliminate the entirely.

More information: "Huntingtin Is Critical Both Pre- and Postsynaptically for Long-Term Learning-Related Synaptic Plasticity in Aplysia," Yun-Beom Choi et al. www.plosone.org/article/info%3… journal.pone.0103004

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New therapeutic target identified for Huntington's disease

Nov 26, 2013

A new study published 26th November in the open access journal PLOS Biology, identifies a new target in the search for therapeutic interventions for Huntington's disease – a devastating late-onset neurodegenerative disord ...

Recommended for you

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

Oct 22, 2014

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

Can bariatric surgery lead to severe headache?

Oct 22, 2014

Bariatric surgery may be a risk factor for a condition that causes severe headaches, according to a study published in the October 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurol ...

Bipolar disorder discovery at the nano level

Oct 22, 2014

A nano-sized discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could one day lead to new drug therapies to treat the mental illness.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cartermillicent
not rated yet Aug 12, 2014
My testimony on how i was cure of HIV/AIDS by one doctor called DR ILAMOSI
Am Millicent Carter by name i live in Canada i suffered the illness called
HIV/AIDS, i have been in so many hospital's i visited so many herbalist
no one was able to cure me the sickness Nealy take my life, until a
friend of mine introduce me to one DR ILAMOSI i never knew the man was
so powerful until i contacted him. That was when i known there is a real
prophet who can cure all disease so he cure my HIV/AIDS i regain back
my life and all that i have lost come back to me, the prophet is in did
powerful contact him if you need your life back; contact him ON
dr.ilamosi_cure@yahoo.com OR call him ON +2348077877608