A step closer to medical treatments for neural disorders

New insight into the role of a key regulator in cell division may help uncover new drug targets in the search for treatments for neural disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.

The anaphase promoting complex has been found to act as a protein level regulator at the synapse, according to a study by Cambridge researchers in the November 24 issue of the journal Cell.

According to Dr Andrea Brand from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute and Department of Anatomy at the University of Cambridge, and lead investigator of the study, understanding the way synapses are modified is a major question in neurobiology. Neuronal connections are altered in response to learning. The ability to change the strength of connections between neurons and their targets, called plasticity, decreases with age. This can be seen in the way young children can learn new things, such as new languages or new skills, faster and better than adults.

Recently it has been shown that synaptic development and plasticity are regulated by targeted protein degradation. Abnormal control of protein degradation in neurons can lead to neurodegenerative disorders.

"It is an exciting finding as the mechanisms by which synaptic proteins are regulated are, in general, poorly understood," said Dr Brand.

"A better understanding of protein degradation in neurons may help us to comprehend a host of neural disorders." Protein degradation plays an important role in many basic cellular functions. In recognition of this, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year was awarded for studies of protein degradation.

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