AUG 26, 2016 3:03 PM PDT

Microcephaly can be Caused by Nondividing Stem Cells

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch
Microcephaly is a rare developmental defect that causes an infant’s head to be smaller than normal at birth. While sometimes it is just a problem with head size, it can also cause devastating complications such as retardation, seizures, delays in speech development, and difficulties with coordination and balance. There has been a marked increase in interest in this condition because it is a complication seen in infants born to women infected with Zika virus. In the video below, a woman talks about her experience raising children with microcephaly.
Aside from Zika, microcephaly can have environmental or genetic causes that end up reducing the number of neurons in the brain. Researchers investigating microcephaly utilized one known genetic mutation that leads to microcephaly in order to learn more about it.
 
Mutations in the NDE1 gene, which normally helps control the motor protein dyenein, causes severe microcephaly. Due to its function, it was suspected as having a role in microcephaly defects long ago, and that role was confirmed in human microcephaly patients. While other genetic causes of microcephaly have been indentified, the disease associated with the loss of NDE1 is the most severe compared to the other genes. As such, the researchers used rat brains to study how loss of the NDE1 protein caused the brain defect. In their study, they highlighted the use of the openly available Allen Developing Mouse Brain Atlas to ascertain gene expression in the brain.

Richard Vallee, a Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia University, led the study, which was reported in Nature Communications. The video below explains their results, which found that defects in the NDE1 gene cause stem cells to completely stop dividing or proliferating.
Specialized cells called radial glia progenitor (RGP) cells in the developing rat brain were the focus of this work. They are very elongated stem cells that normally undergo fast, repeated divisions as the brain develops over months. When the NDE1 gene was disrupted, it totally halted the division of stem cells even before it had started by interfering with a variety of cellular growth processes. 

The results suggest several ways in which microcephaly might occur in the fetal brain. Additionally, the work may help show how the Zika virus impacts cells of the developing brain. The Vallee lab is currently working in collaboration with other researchers at Columbia, Vincent Racaniello, PhD and Amy Rosenfield, PhD of the Department of Microbiology, to understand how neuronal cell damage caused by NDE1 defects is different from that caused by Zika virus.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Columbia University, Mayo ClinicNature Communications
About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
DEC 12, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 12, 2019
Newly Identified Small Proteins Could Have a Big Impact
While the human genome has been sequenced, there are plenty of parts of it that we don't know much about....
JAN 07, 2020
Immunology
JAN 07, 2020
"Good" T Cells Can Go "Bad," But in the Case of Cancer, That's A Good Thing
T cells may be able to reach their full potential in the fight against cancer with a little nudge. In 2010, scientists first observed CD4+ T cells transiti...
JAN 15, 2020
Microbiology
JAN 15, 2020
Scientists Engineer a New Kind of Life Form
Usig cells harvested from frogs, researchers created tiny robots....
JAN 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 19, 2020
Scientists Create Neuromuscular Organoids That Contract
This work is a breakthrough for the study of neuromuscular diseases including ALS, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis....
JAN 20, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 20, 2020
Ovarian Cancer Protein Accelerates Alzheimer's Neurodegeneration
Around 21,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, while an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Now, research...
FEB 24, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
FEB 24, 2020
How Brain Cells Can Protect Muscles
Protein buildup is not only a problem for the brain, it can also impair muscles....
Loading Comments...