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One of the genes responsible for regulating neuronal structure identified

01 February 2018
This discovery could have truly important repercussions on the study and treatment of serious neurological diseases

As in a dense forest where billions of trees intertwine through their branches and trunks, billions of neurons cross our brain with their extensions, called dendrites and axons. What defines their morphology? What establishes how and to what amount they should develop? It is a complex process which involves a very large number of genes. The Laboratory of Cerebral Cortex Development managed by Antonello Mallamaci at SISSA, in Trieste, has recently dealt with one in particular, called FOXG1. Researchers have demonstrated that this gene, already involved in the specialisation of cerebral areas in early stages of embryonic development, is responsible for controlling growth and arborization of dendrites. In particular, scholars observed noticeable variations in their structure even upon small changes in gene expression level, comparable to those which take place in physiological conditions, demonstrating the role of FOXG1 in the fine-tuning of neuronal morphology. Researchers also reconstructed an important part of the mechanisms involved in this process, describing the effect of the gene on four molecules involved in neuron structure regulation. These results are in accordance with the role of FOXG1 in diseases like Rett and West syndrome, characterised by an abnormal arborisation of the dendrites of cortical neurons. They provide important suggestions for the development and, above all, a way of using drugs that can adjust the FOXG1 expression level, possibly as early as in the intrauterine phase. The study has been published in the Cerebral Cortex journal.

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