New findings may shed light on brain and spinal cord birth defects

January 19, 2010, Cell Press

New research, published by Cell Press in the January 19th issue of the journal Developmental Cell, provides intriguing insight into how the nervous system forms during very early embryonic development. The study sheds light on a process called neural tube closure which, when disrupted, causes congenital birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, including anencephaly and spina bifida.

During normal embryonic development, a flat sheet of cells that is destined to give rise to the brain and thickens and forms a groove with raised sides. Eventually, the sides of the groove fuse, almost like zipping a zipper, to form a hollow structure called the neural tube. If the neural tube does not "zip up" completely, it causes the brain and to develop abnormally, resulting in defects that that range in severity from partial paralysis to death. These are relatively common, representing serious problems for 1/1000 live human births.

Details about what drives formation of the neural tube have remained elusive. But now, a study led by Drs. Eric Camerer and Shaun R. Coughlin from the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco has shown that proteins called protease-activated receptors (PARs), which are best known for their role in tissue response to injury in adults, are required for neural tube closure. The researchers found that mice lacking specific PARs exhibited neural tube defects.

Interestingly, specific PARs and the protein that controls them were only active along the edges of the groove where and when the edges of the neural tube fused. These observations led the researchers to hypothesize that this PAR might sense the integrity of the tissue, as it does in the case of injuries, to regulate the closure of the tube. "Our discovery of molecular events that contribute to neural tube closure in mice might lead to insights into the complex mechanisms underlying human neural tube defects," concludes Dr. Coughlin.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Spare parts from small parts: Novel scaffolds to grow muscle

February 20, 2018
Australian biomedical engineers have successfully produced a 3D material that mimics nature to transform cells into muscle.

Clues to obesity's roots found in brain's quality control process

February 20, 2018
Deep in the middle of our heads lies a tiny nub of nerve cells that play a key role in how hungry we feel, how much we eat, and how much weight we gain.

Study looks at how newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels

February 19, 2018
A new study published today found that a newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels when it senses inadequate blood flow to tissues.

Scientists produce human intestinal lining that re-creates living tissue inside organ-chip

February 16, 2018
Investigators have demonstrated how cells of a human intestinal lining created outside an individual's body mirror living tissue when placed inside microengineered Intestine-Chips, opening the door to personalized testing ...

Data wave hits health care

February 16, 2018
Technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors fight one of the deadliest infections in American hospitals.

Researcher explains how statistics, neuroscience improve anesthesiology

February 16, 2018
It's intuitive that anesthesia operates in the brain, but the standard protocol among anesthesiologists when monitoring and dosing patients during surgery is to rely on indirect signs of arousal like movement, and changes ...

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.