The research, which is printed in the Feb. 18 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, centers on a key protein called WAVE-1 that is found throughout the brain. Researchers at OHSU produced mice lacking the WAVE-1 protein. Following observation, these animals were found to have balance, motor, learning and memory deficits. These symptoms correlate with one form of mental retardation found in humans.
"WAVE-1 is a very important protein involved in brain cell communication," said researcher John Scott, Ph.D., an associate investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a senior scientist in the OHSU Vollum Institute. "The protein acts like a scaffolding that supports the lines of communication between different parts of the cell."
Scott and other OHSU researchers believe the absence of the WAVE-1 protein causes a partial breakdown of the brain cell communication system, which results in reduced learning ability and other effects associated with mental retardation. While there are thought to be literally hundreds of causes for mental retardation, it's believed the breakdown of important cellular communication systems is involved in many, if not all, forms.
One major conclusion of the research is that mental retardation involves many more areas of the brain than first expected.
"The protein is found in a variety of regions of the brain, including the hippocampus and the cerebellum," explained Jacob Raber, Ph.D., an assistant profess
Contact: Jim Newman
Oregon Health & Science University