A 'control switch' that instructs immature cells to become dopamine-expressing neurons is revealed in Nature. The findings could help stem-cell researchers wishing to make replacement dopaminergic neurons for people with Parkinson's disease.
Nuria Flames and Oliver Hobert show that the protein AST-1 is needed to drive and maintain the differentiation of dopaminergic nerves cells in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. If the protein is absent, dopaminergic differentiation is impaired; adding the protein activates the dopamine production pathway.
Dopamine-producing neurons have been implicated in many activities including motor control cognition, motivation and pleasure. Many different genes have been implicated in their production, but AST-1 seems to be at the top of the pathway. Given that the protein and its functions are conserved in vertebrates, it is now a therapeutically relevant target for influencing dopaminergic cell production and maintenance.
Oliver Hobert (Columbia University, New York, NY, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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