Researchers have identified a gene with a key role in neuronal survival

April 16, 2012

Spanish researchers at the Institute of Neurosciences at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (INc-UAB) identified the fundamental role played by the Nurr1 gene in neuron survival associated with synaptic activity. The discovery, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, allows scientists to study a new target that could help to understand the relationship between alterations in neural connections, which are known to cause early cognitive deficit, and the neurodegeneration characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

During the development of the brain, hundreds of thousands of neurons die if they do not establish the necessary connections - synapses - with their cell targets. The process of regulating neuron survival and death is fundamental in the organization of forming the adult brain.

The effect of synaptic activity on the survival of these neurons however is not limited to the developing brain; it is also fundamental in the . The loss of synaptic activity, which results into the characteristic cognitive impairment seen in such as Alzheimer's, precedes and contributes to the neuronal death observed in these pathologies. Despite the importance of this process, there is no exact knowledge of the molecular mechanisms implied in neuron survival generated by this activity.

In the study directed by José Rodríguez Álvarez, researcher of the UAB Institute of Neurosciences, scientists determined the relation of a gene and the neuron survival regulated by synaptic activity. Through a massive analysis of gene activity, researchers identified several dozens of genes whose functions are regulated by this activity. Of all the genes, the research demonstrates the key role played by the Nurr1 gene in the survival of neurons. Among the discoveries made, researchers observed that when the activity of this gene is silenced, the neuron dies. The research concludes that this identification provides a better understanding into the relationship between early synaptic deficits and the posterior neurodegeneration observed in Alzheimer's disease.

Explore further: A mechanism to improve learning and memory

Related Stories

A mechanism to improve learning and memory

February 21, 2012

There are a number of drugs and experimental conditions that can block cognitive function and impair learning and memory. However, scientists have recently shown that some drugs can actually improve cognitive function, which ...

Recommended for you

New tool offers snapshots of neuron activity

June 26, 2017

Many cognitive processes, such as decision-making, take place within seconds or minutes. Neuroscientists have longed to capture neuron activity during such tasks, but that dream has remained elusive—until now.

Why social isolation can bring a greater risk of illness

June 26, 2017

Social isolation has been linked to a wide range of health problems, as well as a shorter lifespan in humans and other animals. In fact, during a U.S. Senate hearing on aging issues this spring, a representative for the Gerontological ...

Brains evolved to need exercise: study

June 26, 2017

Mounting scientific evidence shows that exercise is good not only for our bodies, but for our brains. Yet, exactly why physical activity benefits the brain is not well understood.

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.