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Super-Resolution Microscopy Sheds Light on How Dementia Protein Becomes Dysfunctional

Aug 05, 2019 02:56 AM EDT
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The Signaling Protein Fyn in Living Brain Cells (IMAGE)
The signaling protein Fyn moving and forming clusters in living brain cells - viewed using super-resolution microscopy.
(Photo : Meunier Lab, University of Queensland)

University of Queensland researchers have used super-resolution microscopy to observe key molecules at work inside living brain cells, further unraveling the puzzle of memory formation and the elusive causes of dementia.UQ Queensland Brain Institute's Clem Jones Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research Professors Frédéric Meunier and Jürgen Götz found a protein, Tau, involved in Alzheimer's disease affects the organization of the signaling protein Fyn, which plays a critical role in memory formation.

"One of the distinguishing features of Alzheimer's disease is the tangles of Tau protein that form inside brain cells, but this is the first time anyone has demonstrated that Fyn nanoclustering is affected by Tau," Professor Götz said. Professor Meunier said single-molecule imaging in living brain cells allowed unprecedented access to the organization of key proteins in small nanoclusters that were not detectable previously.

"We have shown that Tau controls the Fyn nanoclustering in dendrites, where the communication between brain cells occurs," Professor Meunier said. "When Tau is mutated, Fyn makes aberrantly large clusters, thereby altering nerve signals and contributing to the dysfunction of the synapse-junctions between nerve cells."

Professor Meunier's team used the super-resolution single-molecule imaging technique to see how Tau and its mutants control Fyn nanoclustering. Professor Meunier went on to investigate a different mutant of Tau found in families with a very high risk of developing frontotemporal dementia and found that Fyn was over-clustered in the spines of dendrites.

"Imagine that you have clustering of Fyn, a signaling molecule, throughout your life; it's going to give rise to an over-signaling problem -- this could be one of the ways in which Fyn is toxic to cells," he said. "The spines of the dendrites are critical to how nerve cells communicate with each other and underpin memory and learning." Exactly what causes Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is still a mystery, but Fyn is linked to both the plaques of amyloid protein that form between brain cells and tangles of Tau protein that form inside the brain cells -- two distinguishing features of Alzheimer's disease.

"Super-resolution single-molecule imaging gives us unprecedented insights into what is happening in living nerve cells, with the aim of understanding the biology behind these complex and debilitating diseases," Professor Meunier said. 

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