New technique offers closer look at brain’s distinct proteins

Sept. 22, 2021
The work could lead to the development of new, more effective treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other such neurological diseases.

Work by a team led by Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) is pushing toward a better understanding of the brain’s distinct proteins. This could lead to the development of new, more effective treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other such neurological diseases.

In their study, the researchers designed a virus to send an enzyme to a precise location in the brain of a living mouse. The enzyme—derived from soybeans—served to genetically tag neighboring proteins in a predetermined location. According to the researchers, they imaged the brain with fluorescence and electron microscopy, which produced a snapshot of the entire set of proteins (or proteome) inside living neurons; this was then analyzed postmortem via mass spectroscopy.

The virus essentially acts as a message that we deliver, says the study’s senior author Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, the Soretta and Henry Shapiro Research Professor of Molecular Biology and associate professor of neurobiology in Northwesterns Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In this case, the message carried this special soybean enzyme. Then, in a separate message, we sent the green fluorescent protein to show us which neurons were tagged. If the neurons are green, then we know the soybean enzyme was expressed in those neurons.

As a result of this study, which involved chemically tagging proteins and their neighbors, the researchers are now able to see how proteins work “within a specific, controlled area and how they work with one another in a proteome.”

According to the researchers, it is possible to amplify and sequence genes and RNA to identify their specific building blocks. However, this cannot be done the same way for proteins. Instead, they note, proteins must be divided into peptides and then put back together—a “slow and imperfect process.”

The team’s recent findings could help researchers to better understand and develop new treatments for neurological illnesses. Reference: V. Dumrongprechachan et al., Nat. Commun., 12, 4855 (2021);

About the Author

Justine Murphy | Multimedia Director, Laser & Military

Justine Murphy is the multimedia director for the Laser & Military Group at Endeavor Business Media. In addition to Laser Focus World, the group includes Military & Aerospace Electronics and Vision Systems Design. She is a multiple award-winning writer and editor with more 20 years of experience in newspaper publishing as well as public relations, marketing, and communications. For nearly 10 years, she has covered all facets of the optics and photonics industry as an editor, writer, web news anchor, and podcast host for an internationally reaching magazine publishing company. Her work has earned accolades from the New England Press Association as well as the SIIA/Jesse H. Neal Awards. She received a B.A. from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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