Research could lead to advances in treatment for neurological disorders, thyroid cancer

September 23, 2013
This model shows potential binding sites on the GABA(A) receptor for cholesterol (cyan), thyroid hormone (red), and two other neurosteroids called allopregnanolone (blue) and pregnenolone sulfate (yellow).

An innovative research project at Rutgers–Camden that combines computational and experimental science is uncovering information that could lead to advances in treatments for neurological disorders and thyroid diseases.

To solve the puzzle, Rutgers–Camden professors Grace Brannigan and Joseph Martin are studying a protein fundamental to our understanding of the brain: the GABA(A) receptor.

"We're trying to determine the mechanism through which —neurosteroids and —interact with the GABA(A) receptor," says Brannigan, an assistant professor of physics in Rutgers–Camden's Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Rutgers–Camden.

GABA is an inhibitory chemical that blocks impulses between in the brain. A GABA(A) receptor's job is to detect and respond to GABA. GABA(A) receptors are also regulated by neurosteroids, made from cholesterol, that impact behavior, stress, memory, and depression; and thyroid hormones that also affect these brain functions.

"Without a constant inhibitory effect on the brain, you could have problems like anxiety or seizures," says Martin, a professor of biology who directs the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology.

The mystery surrounds how neurosteroids and thyroid hormones work with the GABA(A) receptor. Finding the answer could lead to drug treatments for thyroid diseases, , and even learning how anesthetics work.

"We want to have a picture of what it looks like when the molecule [GABA] binds to the protein [GABA(A)]," explains Brannigan, who is predicting how they interact with each other using computer modeling. Her calculations are being made on sophisticated computers on the Rutgers–Camden campus and through the National Science Foundation's XSEDE supercomputers, which support high-end visualization and data analysis resources across the country.

Meanwhile, Martin is testing predictions about where the binding takes place by observing the response of immature frog egg cells which are made to express GABA(A) receptors.

"We're doing this high-performance simulation to determine how the two interact and where the interaction takes place," Brannigan says. "People have been trying to develop drugs that mimic these natural neurosteroids and hormones, but the synthetic versions don't seem to have the effect you'd hope."

The research could lead to an understanding of how the neurosteroids interact with the receptor, which would then impact various treatments for neurological disorders.

Explore further: GABA deficits disturb endocannabinoid system

Related Stories

GABA deficits disturb endocannabinoid system

January 24, 2012
Changes in the endocannabinoid system may have important implications for psychiatric and addiction disorders. This brain system is responsible for making substances that have effects on brain function which resemble those ...

Brain makes its own version of Valium, researchers find

May 30, 2013
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that a naturally occurring protein secreted only in discrete areas of the mammalian brain may act as a Valium-like brake on certain types of epileptic seizures.

Engineering a photo-switch for nerve cells in the eye and brain

November 14, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Chemists and vision scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have designed a light-sensitive molecule that can stimulate a neural response in cells of the retina and brain—a possible first ...

Study shows how neurons interact, could lead to new treatment for addiction

January 18, 2012
Harvard scientists have developed the fullest picture yet of how neurons in the brain interact to reinforce behaviors ranging from learning to drug use, a finding that might open the door to possible breakthroughs in the ...

Recommended for you

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Researchers develop new method to generate human antibodies

July 24, 2017
An international team of scientists has developed a method to rapidly produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. The technique, which will be described in a paper to be published July 24 in The Journal of Experimental ...

New vaccine production could improve flu shot accuracy

July 24, 2017
A new way of producing the seasonal flu vaccine could speed up the process and provide better protection against infection.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

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.