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UT Southwestern researchers pinpoint role cell surface protein group plays in brain function

DALLAS June 26, 2003 A specific group of brain proteins is essential to activate communication between neurons, and without this group of proteins all functions of the central nervous system are disrupted, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have discovered.

The disruption of this specialized group of proteins, called alpha-Neurexins, causes severe interruption of synaptic transmission, which is essential for neurons to communicate in the central nervous system. Synapses are specialized junctions where neurons communicate with target cells.

The study findings, which were discovered in mice and published in today's issue of Nature, expand the knowledge of the process of synaptic transmission and gives scientists new insight into how the brain works. Gaining a fundamental understanding of brain function is critical in order to eventually counter the degenerative effects of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and schizophrenia, said Dr. Thomas Sdhof, director of both the Center for Basic Neuroscience and the C. Vincent Prothro Center for Research in Basic Neuroscience at UT Southwestern and the study's senior author.

"If you want to have any type of insight on how the brain works
you need to understand synaptic transmission," he said.

"The results from this study were a big surprise," Dr. Sdhof said. "When we originally described alpha-Neurexin almost 10 years ago, we hypothesized that the proteins would be involved in signaling the synapses. We thought of it more in terms of the formation of the synapses. The surprise is that it turns out not to be involved in the formation of synapses but what happens subsequently to activate synapses."

To identify the role of these proteins, the researchers used genetically engineered laboratory mice that lacked alpha-Neurexin. The absence of the proteins in the mice resulted in the inactivity of the presynaptic half of the synapses, wh
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Contact: Amy Shields
amy.shields@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
25-Jun-2003


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