Right combination of sugars regulates brain development in worms

September 19, 2013
Mir-79 acts by controlling the addition of certain groups of sugars to selected signaling molecules Credit: Mikael Egebjerg Pedersen, Karen Riiber Mandrup and Lasse Saaby

If the development of our nervous system is disturbed, we risk developing serious neurological diseases, impairing our sensory systems, movement control or cognitive functions. This is true for all organisms with a well-developed nervous system, from man to worm. New research from BRIC, University of Copenhagen reveals how a tiny molecule called mir-79 regulates neural development in roundworms. The molecule is required for correct migration of specific nerve cells during development and malfunction causes defects in the nervous system of the worm. The research has just been published in the journal Science.

Hundreds of worms lie in a small plastic plate under the laboratory microscope. Over the last three years, the group of Associate Professor Roger Pocock has used the C. elegans to study the development of the nervous system. They have just made an important discovery.

"Our new results show that a small molecule called mir-79 is indispensable for development of the worm's nervous system. mir-79 acts by equipping special signal molecules with a transmitter, which tells the nerve cells how they should migrate during development of the worm. If we remove mir-79 with , development of the worm nervous system goes awry," says Mikael Egebjerg Pedersen, who is responsible for the experimental studies.

Mir-79 adds just the right combination of sugar

The research shows that mir-79 acts by controlling the addition of certain groups of sugars to selected signaling molecules. In the world of cells, act as transmitters.

When the nerve cells come into contact with the sugar-transmitters, they are informed where to locate themselves during . If the researchers remove mir-79, the migration of the nerve cells is misguided causing neuronal defects in the worms.

"It has earlier been shown that signaling molecules guide nerve migration, but our research shows that mir-79 regulates nerve by controlling the correct balance of sugar-transmitters on signaling molecules. If mir-79 does not function, the worm nervous system is malformed. In the wild, such defects would be harmful for worm survival," says Roger Pocock who leads the research group behind the finding.

This is the roundworm C. elegans nervous system (cells labeled in green). Credit:Roger Pocock

Worm studies reveal important clues for neuronal repair

A version of mir-79 called mir-9 is found in humans. Therefore, these results are important for understanding how our nervous system develops during fetal development. In addition, the results add to the understanding of how nerve cells may be stimulated to repair damage in our brain or spinal cord.

"Our nervous system is a tissue which is not easily repaired after damage. So, how certain molecular cues can stimulate nerve cells to migrate is an important brick in the puzzle. This will enable us to understand how nerve tissue can be regenerated after, for example, a stroke or an accident. If we can use such knowledge to mimic the signals, we may be able to stimulate nerve cells to migrate into a damaged area," says Roger Pocock.

Worms are a fantastic model to study how the nervous system develops and how form neuronal circuits. Most of the genes that control nervous system development in the worm are also found in humans. At the same time, the reduced complexity of the worm nervous system allows researchers to investigate central biological mechanisms. With new technologies they can mark single cells or molecules, and as worms are transparent, the researchers can track the marked molecules or cells live during worm development.

The next step for the researchers is to investigate how the regulatory pathway they have revealed is regulated in cultures of human cells.

Explore further: Worms may shed light on human ability to handle chronic stress

Related Stories

Worms may shed light on human ability to handle chronic stress

August 15, 2013
New research at Rutgers University may help shed light on how and why nervous system changes occur and what causes some people to suffer from life-threatening anxiety disorders while others are better able to cope.

A step forward in regenerating and repairing damaged nerve cells

November 21, 2012
A team of IRCM researchers, led by Dr. Frédéric Charron, recently uncovered a nerve cell's internal clock, used during embryonic development. The discovery was made in collaboration with Dr. Alyson Fournier's laboratory ...

Study uncovers key to development of peripheral nervous system

May 29, 2013
Patients suffering from hereditary neuropathy may have hope for new treatment thanks to a Geisinger study that uncovered a key to the development of the peripheral nervous system.

Capturing brain activity with sculpted light

September 9, 2013
Scientists at the Campus Vienna Biocenter (Austria) have found a way to overcome some of the limitations of light microscopy. Applying the new technique, they can record the activity of a worm's brain with high temporal ...

Glial cells assist in the repair of injured nerves

January 28, 2013
When a nerve is damaged, glial cells produce the protein neuregulin1 and thereby promote the regeneration of nerve tissue.

Recommended for you

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.

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 ...

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

'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.

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

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.