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Transporters for the brain chemical serotonin provide

Boston -- Researchers at The Forsyth Institute have discovered that the transport mechanisms for serotonin -- the chemical substance involved in transmitting signals between neurons, and which has a role in anxiety and mood disorders -- play a key role in determining where organs are positioned in the body during embryonic development. Transporters bring serotonin into cells. The research team, led by Dr. Michael Levin, found that when the transport of serotonin into cells was blocked, normal development was disrupted in frog and chick embryos.

In particular, left-right asymmetry, the process through which cells "know" which side they are on as they form body organs such as the heart and liver, is controlled by serotonin transporters. Michael Levin, PhD., Associate Member of the Staff, conducted his research with substances commonly used to treat mood disorders in humans including the drug Prozac. These drugs address chemical imbalances in the brain by blocking serotonin's removal from the space between neurons.

"With this research, we've not only identified a novel role of the serotonin transporters, in contributing to left-right asymmetry, but have also confirmed that serotonin has a role in cells other than neurons," Levin said. "This raises interesting questions related to embryonic development and also about the possible subtle side-effects of serotonin-related drugs like the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft) or the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)."

This study, published in the most recent issue of Developmental Neuroscience, has ramifications for neuroscience, developmental genetics, evolutionary biology and, possibly teratology (a branch of pathology and embryology concerned with abnormal development and congenital malformations).

In previous studies, Dr. Levin found that frog embryos contain a supply of serotonin provided in the egg by the mother. This materna
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Contact: Jennifer Kelly
jkelly@forsyth.org
617-892-8602
Forsyth Institute
29-Nov-2005


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