UCSD and Japanese researchers identify new gene involved in development and function of central nervous system

A new gene directly involved in the migration of neurons to the developing brain, and then in the ongoing function of the mature central nervous system, has been identified and described by researchers from the UCSD School of Medicine and the Shirakawa Institute of Animal Genetics in Japan.

One of the mysteries of human development is how the vast number of cells that are produced following fertilization of an egg are deployed to create a human being. In the December 2000 issue of the journal Neuron, the research team describes a protein called NUDEL. NUDEL plays a critical role as part of a transport complex that includes LIS1, a protein identified in human patients with a severe neuronal migration defect. Together, these proteins regulate the function of motor-molecules called dyneins that transport cellular cargo such as organelles within the cell. This complex helps newly formed brain cells migrate to specific regions of the embryonic brain, ensuring proper development of the cerebral cortex, the center of intellectual and cognitive function.

The discovery of NUDEL helps us to fill in the details about how neurons in the developing brain become wired. It provides some new information about the way embryonic neuronal cells divide and travel to end up in the right place at the right time in order to make the proper connection in the adult brain, said Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, M.D., Ph.D., UCSD assistant professor of pediatrics and medicine and co-author of the Neuron paper.

As we increase our knowledge of neuron migration and the pathways by which the proper connections are made, we might discover new approaches to treating neurodegenerative diseases linked to breakdowns in this transport system, added Shinji Hirotsune, M.D., Ph.D., of the Shirakawa Institute of Animal Genetics. We might also be able to develop innovative ways to repair lesions using these pathways to deliver therapies directly to the diseased part of the brain.


Contact: Sue Pondrom
University of California - San Diego

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