In a study published in the Jan. 30, 2011, advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, Salk Institute of Biological Studies investigators led by Kuo-Fen Lee, PhD., show that nestin has reason for being in a completely different cell type–muscle tissue.
However, when agrin mutant mice were administered an RNA reagent that literally knocks out nestin expression, the group made a dramatic finding: the pattern of receptor clusters on diaphragm muscle reappeared, reminiscent of synapses of a normal mouse–meaning that getting rid of nestin allows synapses to proceed even in the absence of the stabilizing glue.
"This in vivo experiment represents a critical genetic finding," explains Lee. "Later, we determined that nestin’s basic function is to recruit cdk5 and its co-activators to the muscle membrane, leading to cdk5 activation and initiating the dispersion process." Additional experiments confirmed that nestin is expressed on the muscle side of the neuromuscular junction, in other words, in the "right" place, and that nestin phosphorylation is required for its newfound function.
Lee believes that information revealed by the study could enhance development of tissue replacement therapies. "Currently, in efforts to devise therapies for motor neuron disease or spinal cord injury there is a lot of focus is on how to make neurons survive," he says. "That is important, but we also need to know how to properly form a synapse. If we cannot, the neuromuscular junction won’t function correctly."
Yang, who studied animal models of motor neuron disease while a graduate student at USC, agrees. "One long-term goal of this study is to identify ways to inhibit cdk5/nestin," he says. "That could slow synapse deterioration in neuromuscular junction diseases, such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or spinal motor atrophy, in which you have an imbalance of positive and negative signals. One approach is to boost positive signaling, but another is to inhibit negative signaling in an effort to slow disease progression."
Source: Salk Institute