This family comprises a cluster of six genes that may be altered inneurological conditions, such as Parkinson's and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. A team headed by Eduardo Soriano at the Institute for Research inBiomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has published a study in Nature Communications describing a new family of six genes whose function regulates themovement and position of mitochondria in neurons. Many neurologicalconditions, including Parkinson's and various types ofCharcot-Marie-Tooth disease, are caused by alterations of genesthat control mitochondrial transport, a process that provides theenergy required for cell function. "We have identified a set of new genes that are highly expressed inthe nervous system and have a specific function in a biologicalprocess that is crucial for the activity and viability of thenervous system", explains Eduardo Soriano, head of the Neurobiologyand Cell Regeneration group at IRB Barcelona and full professor atthe University of Barcelona (UB). |
By means of comparative genomic analyses, the scientists havediscovered that these genes are found only in more evolved mammals,the so-called Eutharia, these characterized by internalfertilization and development. "This finding indicates therelevance of mitochondrial biology. When the brain evolved in size,function and structure, the mitochondrial transport process alsobecame more complex and probably required additional regulatorymechanisms", says Soriano. "Likewise, given the origin of the genecluster, in the transition between primitive mammals, such asmarsupials (kangaroos) and the remaining placental mammals, it istempting to propose that the cluster is linked to the increasedcomplexity of the cerebral cortex in the lineage that leads tohumans", adds the full UB professor Jordi Garcia-Fern ndez,collaborator in the study. Correct brain function is highly energy-demanding.
However, thisenergy must be finely distributed throughout neurons - cells thathave ramifications that can reach up to tens of centimetres inlength, from the brain to the limbs. This cluster of genes formspart of the "wheel" machinery of mitochondria and regulates thelocalization of each cell on the basis of its energy requirements."These genes would be like an extra control in cellularmitochondrial trafficking and they interact with the major proteinsassociated with the regulation of mitochondrial transport",explains Soriano. Another striking characteristic of these new proteins is that theyare found both in mitochondria, the function of which has alreadybeen described, and in the cell nucleus, where their function isunknown. "They may also be involved in the regulation of geneexpression, a possibility that we are now studying". In addition totheir potential involvement in brain pathologies, the researchersbelieve that these proteins may be related to metabolic diseasesand cancer.
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