Alzheimer’s-Linked Gene Behaves as Virus, Scientists Find in Odd Discovery

Alzheimer’s-Linked Gene Behaves as Virus, Scientists Find in Odd Discovery
Two research teams have independently discovered that a cognition-related gene behaves like a virus in the nervous system — passing on its genetic material between neurons. While scientists are still working to understand the “why” of their discovery, they are in agreement that the mechanism has widespread implications, as it appears necessary for the processes of neuronal plasticity — strengthening connections between nerve cells. Both teams — from the University of Utah and the University of Massachusetts Medical School — published their findings in the journal Cell. “This work is a great example of the importance of basic neuroscience research,” Edmund Talley, PhD, said in a press release. Talley is a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which partly funded one of the studies. “What began as an effort to examine the behavior of a gene involved in memory and implicated in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease has unexpectedly led to the discovery of an entirely new process, which neurons may use to send genetic information to one another,” Talley said. Scientists have long known that the gene, called Arc, is crucial for brain function. Flaws in the gene have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. They also knew that the gene held some similarities to proteins found in certain viruses, including HIV. Such viruses infect cells by building a type of shell, called a viral capsid, which contains its genetic information. Such capsids are released from one cell, then travel to another to insert its genetic information. To both teams’ surprise, they observed virtually the same thing when they
Subscribe or to access all post and page content.