Posts tagged microtubules
Posts tagged microtubules
How do nerve cells — which can each be up to three feet long in humans — keep from rupturing or falling apart?
Axons, the long, cable-like projections on neurons, are made stronger by a unique modification of the common molecular building block of the cell skeleton. The finding, which may help guide the search for treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, was reported in the April 10 issue of Neuron by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.
Microtubules are long, hollow cylinders that are a component of the cytoskeleton in all cells of the body. They also support transport of molecules within the cell and facilitate growth. They are made up of polymers of a building-block substance called tubulin.
“Except for neurons, cells’ microtubules are in constant dynamic flux — being taking apart and rebuilt,” says Scott Brady, professor and head of anatomy and cell biology at UIC and principal investigator on the study. But only neurons grow so long, he said, and once created they must endure throughout a person’s life, as much as 80 to 100 years. The microtubules of neurons are able to withstand laboratory conditions that cause other cells’ microtubules to break apart.
Brady had been able to show some time ago that the neuron’s stability depended on a modification of tubulin.
“But when we tried to figure out what the modification was, we didn’t have the tools,” he said.
Yuyu Song, a former graduate student in Brady’s lab and the first author of the study, took up the question. “It was like a detective story with many possibilities that had to be ruled out one by one,” she said. Song, who is now a post-doctoral fellow at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Yale School of Medicine, used a variety of methods to determine the nature of the modification and where it occurs.
She found that tubulin is modified by the chemical bonding of polyamines, positively charged molecules, at sites that might otherwise be chinks where tubulin could be broken down, causing the microtubules to fall apart. She was also able to show that the enzyme transglutaminase was responsible for adding the protective polyamines.
The blocking of a vulnerable site on tubulin would explain the extraordinary stability of neuron microtubules, said Brady. However, convincing others required the “thorough and elegant work” that Song brought to it, he said. “It’s such a radical finding that we needed to show all the key steps along the way.”
The authors also note that increased microtubule stability correlates with decreased neuronal plasticity — and both occur in the process of aging and in some neurodegenerative diseases. Continued research, they say, may help identify novel therapeutic approaches to prevent neurodegeneration or allow regeneration.
ScienceDaily (July 20, 2012) — Scientists at the University of Manchester have uncovered how the internal mechanisms in nerve cells wire the brain. The findings open up new avenues in the investigation of neurodegenerative diseases by analysing the cellular processes underlying these conditions.
Illustration of spectraplakins in axonal growth organising microtubules. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Manchester)
Dr Andreas Prokop and his team at the Faculty of Life Sciences have been studying the growth of axons, the thin cable-like extensions of nerve cells that wire the brain. If axons don’t develop properly this can lead to birth disorders, mental and physical impairments and the gradual decay of brain capacity during aging.
Axon growth is directed by the hand shaped growth cone which sits in the tip of the axon. It is well documented how growth cones perceive signals from the outside to follow pathways to specific targets, but very little is known about the internal machinery that dictates their behaviour.
Dr Prokop has been studying the key driver of growth cone movements, the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton helps to maintain a cell’s shape and is made up of the protein filaments, actin and microtubules. Microtubules are the key driving force of axon growth whilst actin helps to regulate the direction the axon grows.
Dr Prokop and his team used fruit flies to analyse how actin and microtubule proteins combine in the cytoskeleton to coordinate axon growth. They focussed on the multifunctional proteins called spectraplakins which are essential for axonal growth and have known roles in neurodegeneration and wound healing of the skin.
What the team demonstrate in this recent paper is that spectraplakins link microtubules to actin to help them extend in the direction the axon is growing. If this link is missing then microtubule networks show disorganised criss-crossed arrangements instead of parallel bundles and axon growth is hampered.
By understanding the molecular detail of these interactions the team made a second important finding. Spectraplakins collect not only at the tip of microtubules but also along the shaft, which helps to stabilise them and ensure they act as a stable structure within the axon.
This additional function of spectraplakins relates them to a class of microtubule-binding proteins including Tau. Tau is an important player in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, which is still little understood. In support of the author’s findings, another publication has just shown that the human spectraplakin, Dystonin, causes neurodegeneration when affected in its linkage to microtubules.
Talking about his research Dr Prokop said: “Understanding cytoskeletal machinery at the cell level is a holy grail of current cell research that will have powerful clinical applications. Thus, cytoskeleton is crucially involved in virtually all aspects of a cell’s life, including cell shape changes, cell division, cell movement, contacts and signalling between cells, and dynamic transport events within cells. Accordingly, the cytoskeleton lies at the root of many brain disorders. Therefore, deciphering the principles of cytoskeletal machinery during the fundamental process of axon growth will essentially help research into the causes of a broad spectrum of diseases. Spectraplakins like at the heart of this machinery and our research opens up new avenues for its investigation”
What Dr Prokop’s paper in the Journal of Neuroscience also demonstrates is the successful research technique using the fruit fly Drosophila. The team was able to replicate its findings regarding axon growth in mice which in turn means the findings can be translated to humans.
Dr Prokop points out fruit flies provide ideal means to make sense of these findings and essentially help to unravel the many mysteries of neurodegeneration.
Dr Prokop continues: “Understanding how spectraplakins perform their cellular functions has important implications for basic as well as biomedical research. Thus, besides their roles during axon growth, spectraplakins of mice and humans are clinically important for a number of conditions and processes including skin blistering, neuro-degeneration, wound healing, synapse formation and neuron migration during brain development. Understanding spectraplakins in one biological process will instruct research on the other clinically relevant roles of these proteins.”
Source: Science Daily