Understanding the molecular basis of these processes, and how they can go wrong, may ultimately lead to treatments for many birth defects, such as spina bifida that afflicts between 800 to 1,000 babies born each year in the United States.
Writing in the August issue of the scientific journal Nature Cell Biology, the researchers report the discovery that a single protein facilitates the movements of cells within the developing embryo of the zebrafish, a small fish that has become an important animal model for studying the development of vertebrates, animals with backbones.
The researchers report that this protein plays an essential role in directing the migration of cells within the spherical egg to the head-tail axis where the body is beginning to take shape. They also found that disruption of the same protein inhibits the normal migration of nerve cells within the developing zebrafish brain, a type of motion found in human brain development.
"A great deal is known about the movement of the projections that neurons send out to connect with other neurons, but very little is known about how neurons move from one place to another," says Lilianna Solnica-Krezel, the associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt who led the study with Anand Chandrasekhar, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
Zebrafish have characteristics that make them ideal for developmental research. They lay eggs that are transparent and develop outside the body, making them particularly easy to study. Development is also rapid, proceeding from fertilization to hatching in only three days. The fish are also easy and inexpensive to raise, so scientists can keep thousands of them in a laboratory. The zebrafish
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