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What keeps the nervous system intact?

axons, long projections of neurons that allow communication between nerve cells or between nerve cells and muscle cells.

The discovery of the maintenance mechanism was a surprise to the research team. Dr. Hobert, a developmental neurobiologist, and his colleagues had not set out to find these maintenance proteins. The team had been studying when and where certain genes would act during the development of the C. elegans nervous system.

But in the groups search, they found that six ZIG proteins started acting in one nerve cellthe PVT cell of the major right nerve cordafter development, after the nervous system had been formed. Without the ZIG proteins the mature nervous system becomes wobbly, with the wiring falling out of place and collapsing onto other wires, Dr. Hobert says.

Before these findings, neurobiologists had known the PVT cell of the major right nerve cord manufactured and secreted a protein, called netrin, to help guide the formation of the rest of the nervous system but were unaware the PVT cell also played a role in maintaining the structure of the nervous system.

The PVT cell makes and then discharges the ZIG proteins outside of the cells to act on other nerve cells. Dr. Hobert and his collaborators are now trying to understand how the proteins interact with the other nerve cells to help them stay in their proper place.

Neurobiologists often study how the nervous system develops and how nerve cells interact during memory and learning, Dr Hobert says. Our findings point to the importance of factors, previously unidentified, involved in keeping the anatomy of the nervous system intact. More research will elucidate the proteins functions.

Dr. Hobert named the proteins ZIG for two reasons: Each protein has two immunoglobulin-like, or ig, regions. The z comes f
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Contact: Annie Bayne
as862@columbia.edu
Columbia University Medical Center
17-May-2002


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