Protein assembly line

Artist’s depiction of the inside of a neuron resembling a factory assembly line: worn-out protein spheres are replaced and upgraded with newer, vibrant protein spheres. Credit: Auburn University Department of Physics

Breakthrough discovery in brain cell research

Auburn University researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery, shedding light on the process by which brain cells efficiently replace older proteins. This process is essential for maintaining effective neural communication and optimal cognitive function.

Innovative study on protein recycling in brain cells

The results were published on November 6 in the prestigious journal, Frontiers of cellular development and biology. The study, titled “Newly recycled synaptic vesicles use multi-cytoskeletal transport and differential presynaptic capture probability to establish retrograde net flow during ISVE in central neurons,” explains the transport and recycling of older proteins in brain cells.

Mechanism behind protein replacement in neurons

Dr. Michael W. Gramlich, assistant professor of physics at Auburn University, explains: “Brain cells regularly replace older proteins to maintain efficient thinking. However, the exact mechanism by which older proteins are targeted for transport to where they need to be recycled has remained an open question until now. Our research shows that a specific pathway regulates how older proteins are transported back to the cell body where they are recycled, allowing new proteins to take their place.

Implications for brain health

This discovery has profound implications for understanding brain health. Without effective protein replacement, neurons in the brain would degrade over time and become less efficient. Dr. Gramlich adds: “Our work reveals a regulatable pathway that can be modulated to adapt to increased or decreased brain function. This prevents neuron degradation over time.

Collaborative research effort

The study was a collaborative effort involving graduate student Mason Parkes and undergraduate student Nathan Landers. Impressively, as an undergraduate, Nathan Landers performed advanced computer programming that played a vital role in understanding the results of this research.

A simple but crucial mechanism discovered

“We were surprised to find that a single, simple, regulatable mechanism determines when the oldest proteins are chosen for recycling,” notes Dr. Gramlich, emphasizing the importance of their findings.

Techniques used in the study

This publication is part of a collection focused on traffic, neuronal plasticity and learning. The researchers used a combination of techniques, including fluorescence microscopy, hippocampal cell cultures and computational analyses, to determine the mechanisms that mediate the trafficking of older synaptic vesicles to the cell body.

Potential for future research

The Auburn University research team is excited about the potential applications of their findings to further our understanding of brain health and degenerative neurological diseases. Their groundbreaking work is a testament to the innovative research being conducted within the institution.

Reference: “Newly recycled synaptic vesicles use multi-cytoskeletal transport and differential presynaptic capture probability to establish net retrograde flow during ISVE in central neurons” by Mason Parkes, Nathan L. Landers and Michael W. Gramlich, November 6, 2023, Frontiers of cellular development and biology.
DOI: 10.3389/fcell.2023.1286915

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