The same molecule that instructs cells to meld together correctly into a healthy frog brain turns out to be a crucial factor in forming the wrists, knees, and elbows of mice, NIGMS-supported researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and their collaborators at Harvard report in the May 29 issue of Science. The function of this protein, comically dubbed Noggin, is no laughing matter--scientists are now learning that Noggin appears to perform a vital role in the proper development of tissues in organisms ranging from frogs to humans.
"I think this story illustrates particularly well how poking around in frogs can lead to something of potential health benefit," NIGMS grantee Dr. Richard Harland said.
Six years ago, Harland, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and William Smith, who was then in his lab, discovered Noggin in the course of their research on the development of what might appear to be an obscure laboratory-bred organism, an African clawed frog called Xenopus laevis. Smith and Harland showed that in Xenopus embryos, Noggin performs a critical developmental function: It permits certain cells to become brain and nervous system tissue by blocking alternate pathways that might form other tissues such as skin, for instance. The protein got its name, in fact, when the team found that lab frogs formed exceptionally large heads after embryos were injected with Noggin messenger RNA (which led to the overproduction of Noggin protein).
Years ago, Harland had originally chosen to work with amphibian embryos largely because of their size and ease of surgical manipulation. Since then, that decision has paid off, yielding valuable insights into basic developmental biological mechanisms, many of which appear to prevail throughout the animal kingdom. The latest of these is revealing the important role Noggin plays in patterning the mammalian skeleton.
The potential health benef
Contact: Alison Davis
NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences