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OHSU researchers discover molecular signaling system controlling aspects of embryonic development

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have identified a secreted signaling protein that regulates smooth muscle development in fruit flies. In the absence of a protein called "Jelly Belly (Jeb)," primitive smooth muscle cells fail to migrate or differentiate, according to study results published in the October 2 issue of Nature.

"Our research shows that Jelly Belly is required for the normal development of the smooth muscle that surrounds the gut in flies and we are investigating it in the arteries of mammals. It is also related to the development of heart muscle," said Joseph B. Weiss M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator and assistant professor (molecular medicine and cardiology), and Heart Research Center scientist in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Smooth muscles are involved in involuntary but essential functions, such as digestion and control of blood flow. Unlocking the genetic mechanisms controlling their embryonic development may allow scientists to understand better what triggers their abnormal growth. Human disorders that are linked to abnormal smooth muscle growth or function include high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and congenital heart defects.

"Weiss has discovered a link in the chain of events that signals primitive cells in the fruit fly embryo to become muscle cells. The findings are key to our quest to identify embryonic genes that are linked to cardiac diseases," said Kent L. Thornburg, Ph.D., professor of medicine (cardiology) and director of the OHSU Heart Research Center. Molecules in fruit flies are functionally similar to molecules in humans typically allowing discoveries in fruit fly biology to be extrapolated to humans. Weiss's findings also illuminate an aspect of how embryonic cells organize themselves into the complex body plans observed across the animal world, including humans. At the embryonic stage, identical primitive cells somehow "choose" a path that determines their biologic
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Contact: Christine Pashley
pashleyc@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
28-Oct-2003


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