Zebrafish help determine cause of Alzheimer’s

Summary

Researchers at VIB have successfully determined which molecules are related to the death of nerve cells using stem cells from zebrafish

Fish have similar stem cells

Through experiments with zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos in molecular brain research, a scientist at the Flemish life sciences research institute VIB has found a new regulation process for the development of nerve cells. The discovery provides new insights into the molecules at the basis of the neurodegenerative disease processes that cause Alzheimer’s disease.

The VIB researcher examined how the ripening of stem cells in the brain is regulated. “Stem cells have not yet turned into nerve cells yet but have the potential to do so,” explained Evgenia Salta.

Stem cells are crucial in the development of the brain. As the tropical freshwater zebrafish have similar stem cells, they are an ideal model to study the behaviour of these cells.

“During early embryonic development, the development of stem cells is regulated by the so-called Notch signalling pathway,” said VIB in a statement. “Scientists until now had little understanding about the Notch processes in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”

The expression of genes, which is at the basis of the Notch processes, is arranged by microRNAs (miRNAs) – short molecules that can inhibit or activate genes. Salta examined specifically how the so-called miRNA-132 regulates the Notch signalling pathway of stem cells.

The researchers discovered that the activity of miRNA-132 is reduced in diseases of the nervous system that involve the death of nerve cells, such as Alzheimer’s dementia. “After reducing the level of miRNA in zebrafish,” said Salta, “we found that he development of stem cells is blocked in these altered fish, and we could map the molecules that play a role in this process.”

According to VIB, this work enables researchers to examine in detail what exactly goes wrong in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The research team has started a follow-up study in mice and the brains of deceased patients.

Photo courtesy Hubrecht Laboratorium

Researchers at VIB have successfully determined which molecules are related to the death of nerve cells using stem cells from zebrafish.

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Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)

VIB is a government-funded life-science research institute that has helped Flanders become one of the leading bioscience regions in Europe. Its focus is on translating scientific insights into pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications.
Open house - Each year, the institute opens its labs across Flanders to thousands of visitors in its open-house Biotech Day.
First - Flemish researchers were the first to unravel the chemical structure and functional meaning of a complete genome.
Mission - The VIB was created to push Flemish life sciences research to the top and to help scientific results foster economic growth.
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