Research sheds light on how brain cells communicate
9 June 2006
A University of Sydney PhD student has made a key discovery about brain cell communication that could help in the search for treatments for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.
For years scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of how neurons - the brain's key cells - are able to control the body's everyday tasks from laying down memory to being able to walk.
Understanding how to control these intricate communication processes could help scientists find the cure for a host of the most chronic and severe brain diseases.
Victor Anggono, a member of the Cell Signalling Unit at the Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI), has made a surprise breakthrough by identifying the molecular partner of a key protein called dynamin, which has provided new insight into the ability of neurons to control nerve cell communication.
"I discovered a protein called syndapin - previously thought to have no major role in nerve communication - as a vital molecule that is involved in the transmission of messages between nerve cells," said Victor.
Professor Phil Robinson, leader of the research team at CMRI, added: "This has marked syndapin as a very specific target for the manufacturing of new medicines that could treat conditions where there is an overload of nerve activity, such as during a seizure."
This relationship between dynamin and syndapin is also crucial to understanding other processes such as vision, forming memories and during learning, where there is a high level of brain activity and nerve transmission.
Professor Robinson said: "A discovery like this will be vital for future research into many neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, conditions of memory loss and schizophrenia. It is only through research like this that medical science can target specific problems and develop improved treatments."
Victor's research has already been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, but he says there is much work ahead.
"The brain is like an electronic circuit board, and my work is aimed at trying to identify and map all the different circuits. It's a very difficult task and this is just the start. We have a long way to go in putting together all the pieces of the puzzle and trying to understand the basic mechanism of how they work."
Victor will present his latest findings on the roles of dynamin-syndapin interaction in neurons at two international Gordon Research Conferences: one in molecular and cellular neurobiology in Hong Kong, and the other in cell biology of the neuron in New Hampshire in June.
The research was funded through a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council and a scholarship from the University of Sydney as well as funds from the community donated to Jeans for Genes, the CMRI's major fundraising event.
Contact: Mandy Sacher
Phone: 02 9351 3168