A gene best known for its link to Alzheimer's disease is now shown to be essential for regulating neurotransmitter release. The finding, reported in Nature, may help shed light on the early causes of dementia.
Mutations in the presenilin genes are the major cause of early onset, familial cases of Alzheimer's disease, but where they operate and what they do in neurons has been unclear. Jie Shen and colleagues use mouse models to show that presenilins function on the presynaptic side of synapses between two communicating neurons.
The presynaptic compartment produces neurotransmitters, the brain's chemical messengers, which are released into the synapse to relay information to neighbouring cells. The team shows that presenilins affect neurotransmitter release in a way that may affect learning and memory. Taken together, the findings suggest that presynaptic dysfunction might be an early cause of dementia in neurodegenerative disorders.
Jie Shen (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Chen Zhang (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA) Co-author paper 
(C) Nature press release.
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