A protein that causes coral to glow is helping researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to light up brain cells that are critical for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. This fluorescent marker protein may shed light on brain cell defects believed to play a role in various neurological diseases. The researchers describe how this marker works in mice in the December 20, 2006, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
The marker gives scientists the first-ever opportunity to distinguish between energy-producing structures, called mitochondria, in neurons, from mitochondria in other brain cells, called glia. Defects in mitochondria may be part of the process that leads to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, as well as changes in the brain associated with stroke and aging.
"Prior to the development of this marker, we had no way to identify the mitochondria in neuronal cells from those in glial cells," says the study's principal investigator, Krish Chandrasekaran, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Using this tool, we and other investigators can answer certain questions, such as to what extent does neuronal mitochondrial dysfunction contribute to Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. And, in a general way, we could look into whether there are changes in neuronal mitochondria as we age."
Using advanced genetic techniques, the researchers have produced mice with fluorescent protein markers that identify only the mitochondria in neurons. These structures light up with a greenish-yellow glow when the scientists look at the brains of these mice through a fluorescent microscope. The researchers have determined that the expression of the fluorescent protein does not interfere with the normal functions of mitochondria.
Neurons conduct and generate electro-chemical impulses or nerve signals, which carry information from one par
Contact: Bill Seiler
University of Maryland Medical Center