BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: #Parkinson’s Disease

Environmental Cues Can Trigger Planned Movement and Advance Studies of Motor Disorders

A group of scientists from different universities, including Dr. Hidehiko Inagaki, Dr. Susu Chen, and Dr. Karel Svoboda, came together to understand how cues in our environment can trigger planned movement. Neurons in the human brain are active with diverse patterns and timing. The Motor cortex is responsible for the control of movement. The patterns of the motor cortex differ in the phases of movement. The transitions between these phases is a critical part of movement. The brain areas controlling these transitions were a mystery.

To identify the parts of the brain controlling these transitions the group of scientists performed their research on mice.They recorded the activity of neurons in a mouse’s brain when doing a triggered movement task. Researchers found brain activity taking place directly after the go cue and between the stages of movement. This brain activity came from a circuit of neurons in the midbrain, thalamus, and cortex. To determine whether this circuit was a conductor or not the scientists used optogenetics. Through the use of optogenetics Dr. Inagaki and his colleagues were able to identify a neural circuit critical for triggering movement in response to environmental cues. Dr Inagaki says that “We have found a circuit that can change the activity of the motor cortex from motor planning to execution at the appropriate time. This gives us insight into how the brain orchestrates neuronal activity to produce complex behavior.

Figure-1

Not only is this important for the use of knowing more about the brain but it also helps to advance studies of motor disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. By adding environmental cues to trigger movements it could drastically change the mobility of patients.

In Ap Biology class we learned about cell communication. Neurons communicate with each other by releasing specific molecules in the gap between them, called the synapses. The sending neuron passes on messages through neurotransmitters that are picked up by the receptors of the receiving neuron.

Could Overproducing A Gene Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) discovered a gene that, when overexpressed, prevents the development of Parkinson’s disease in fruit flies and mice. Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by a brain disorder. Parkinson’s disease symptoms typically appear gradually and worsen over time. Men are affected by the disease at a rate that is roughly half that of women. A combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the disease’s underlying cause.

Emi Nagoshi, Professor in the Department of Genetics and Evolution at the UNIGE Faculty of Science, studies the mechanisms of dopaminergic neuron degeneration using the fruit fly. The midbrain dopaminergic neurons are the primary source of dopamine in the central nervous system. Their absence is linked to Parkinson’s disease. Emi’s test connects to the Fer2 gene, whose human homolog encodes a protein that regulates the expression of many other genes and whose mutation may lead to Parkinson’s disease through unknown mechanisms. 

The absence of Fer2 causes Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, the researchers investigated whether increasing the amount of Fer2 in the cells could provide protection. When flies are exposed to free radicals in their environment, such as toxins, their cells undergo oxidative stress, which leads to the degradation of dopaminergic neurons. By creating mutants of the Fer2 Homolog in mouse dopaminergic neurons, the scientists were able to show that oxidative stress has no negative effect on the flies if they overproduce Fer2, confirming the hypothesis of its protective role. They discovered abnormalities of these neurons, as well as defects in movement patterns in aged mice, just as they did in the flies.

Alleles on gene

Genes can have alleles, which give different traits to different people.

In comparison with our unit, the Fer2 provides the understanding of how the molecules that make up cells determine the behavior of in this case mice and fruit flies. Each is made up of nucleotides that are arranged in a linear fashion that resides in a specific location on a chromosome. Most genes encode for a specific protein or protein segment that results in a specific characteristic or function, such as providing a protective barrier towards Parkinson’s disease.

 

 

 

Eating Shark Meat Increases Your Chance At Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

What toxins lie beneath the grey leathery skin of a shark? 

According to the article written at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science,  scientists found toxins that are commonly linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of many different types of sharks. Scientists collected samples of ten different sharks that are commonly found in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The samples came back and tested positive for two toxins: mercury and beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine(BMAA). Many studies have linked mercury and BMAA to diseases like Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS). Shark meat delicacies are common in many Asian countries with dishes including shark fin soup.

Effects of Mercury on humans

Mercury has numerous health effects on humans and can be detrimental to one’s neurological system. Not only that, mercury also affects digestive and immune systems and can damage lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury poisoning can also cause slow reflexes, damaged motor skills and intelligence disorders. In many instances, mercury poisoning can increase your chance at developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that the toxin mercury tends to accumulate in the shark’s tissue throughout their lives.

Effects of beta-N-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) on humans 

The neurotoxin beta-N-Methylamino-L-alanine is an amino acid produced by certain organisms that have been linked to ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. BMAA was also linked to being a cause of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers found BMAA in shark fins and cartilage both of which are used in food and medicine, respectively. The image shown below is of alanine, one of the amino acids. There is an NCC structure shown in the middle, a carboxyl group on the left hand side, an amine group on the right hand side and the CH3 represents the R group. Since BMAA is a non-protein amino acid, when inserted with other amino acids it releases toxic chemicals. The picture below represents an alanine amino acid, however, BMAA has a slightly different structure. The R group of BMAA is NH along with H3C and the amine group is NH2 which contributes to its toxicity.

Why you shouldn’t eat shark meat? 

If the reasons above have not convinced you not to eat shark meat, many species of sharks are facing extinction due to the high demand for shark parts. Though each of these toxins have their own set of dangers, mercury and BMAA together can have an entirely different and more dangerous effect on humans that researchers have not yet explored. To be safe one should refrain from consuming shark products if not for your own health but to save the sharks.

Don’t be afraid of sharks we need them! 

Sharks play a very important role in the ecosystem. Sharks are the apex predators in marine life are most likely at the top of the food chain. Ultimately, they keep the rest of the ocean healthy and in order. Without them many dangerous organisms would be present and could harm marine life. Sharks keep balance within the ecosystem and ensures diversity among ocean species. If you suffer from viruses like cystic fibrosis, researchers are close to finding anticoagulants within shark tissue that could possibly cure certain diseases. Sharks are also very important in the carbon cycle. When they die naturally, their bodies are full of carbon which is then consumed by scavengers and carbon is recycled into the ecosystem. Sharks do way more for us than we think!

CRISPR Cas-9 is the New Key to Curing Parkinson’s Disease

A new screening tool for Parkinson’s Disease was just discovered by a team of researchers at the University of Central Florida. They did this by using cutting edge gene-editing technology, CRISPR Cas-9, which allows scientists to detect levels of alpha-synuclein, a brain protein associated with Parkinson’s.

What is alpha-synuclein?

This protein can be found in our brain, it is something all humans have. When someone develops Parkinson’s, the levels of this protein become abnormal. This protein can become dangerous to neurons and kill them. This person would gradually loose brain cells, affecting their motor functions.

What is CRISPR Cas-9?

CRISPR Cas-9, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene-editing system that enables scientists to edit DNA while preserving the cell. Instead of extracting all of the proteins from a cell and measuring them, CRISPR Cas-9 allows us to edit one gene.

How is used?

The specific gene the team wanted to edit was the alpha-synuclein. The CRISPR Cas-9 helped them edit the gene and add a luminescent tag, made up of similar proteins that make fireflies glow, in order to track how much of this protein is produced in a brain cell. When the brain cell produces alpha-synuclein, it glows, making it easier to visualize once the cell is in a diseased state. Furthermore, scientists can treat these cells with different medications, whether or not they glow will tell if the medications tested are successful.

The Future:

Engineered cells and light detection are a great duo for the future of researchers. Light detection on these engineered cells is helpful for high throughput screening where multiple drugs can be tested at the same time. This research can potentially lower the number of Parkinson’s cases per year. Currently, 60,000 new cases are reported per year in just the United States! Could these numbers drop in the future? Can CRISPR help find a cure to other diseases as well? Reading this article opened my mind to the endless possibilities CRISPR unlocked, I am excited to see where else it could take science.

 

 

 

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