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Transcription factor protein's role in cell death, neurodegeneration and schizophrenia

PHILADELPHIA -- Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered that a protein called Elk-1 interacts with mitochondria, the energy storehouse of a cell, suggesting that this protein - typically active in the nucleus -- could play a role in cell death and mitochondria-related diseases such as neurodegeneration and schizophrenia.

The neuron is a particular type of cell in the brain that is responsible for, among other tasks, learning and memory, cognitive function, and other higher order physiologies. The neuronal cell exhibits a complex structure where fine hair-like structures called dendrites receive signals from other neurons. These signals are transferred to the soma, or body, of the cell and result in neuronal responsiveness to stimulation.

The researchers found that mRNA (messenger RNA) and protein encoding Elk-1, a transcription factor, were localized in the dendrites of intact rodent neurons. "Transcription factors normally only function in the nucleus and to find a transcription factor in the dendrite is pretty unique," says senior author James Eberwine, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology. "These factors are proteins that bind to DNA and play a role in the regulation of gene expression by promoting transcription. Our lab and others showed that Elk-1 is present in the dendrites of nerve cells." Transcription is the process of translating the DNA code into protein.

Along with Eberwine, co-authors Lindy Barrett, Ph.D., a student from the Eberwine lab who was recently awarded her doctorate in philosophy; Philip Haydon, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience; Jai Yoon Sul, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Haydon lab; and colleagues published their findings in the June issue of Nature Methods and a March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the series of experiments (described in the PNAS study) to discern the nature of Elk-1's role in the dendrite, the investigators first charac
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
7-Jun-2006


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