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Spine control

Even healthy cells require this catabolic process.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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<figcaption> Credit: Courtesy of Gerhard Schratt</figcaption>
Credit: Courtesy of Gerhard Schratt

The paper:

G.M. Schratt et al., "A brain–specific microRNA regulates dendritic spine development," Nature, 439:283–8, 2006. (Cited in 98 papers)

The finding:

In 2006, Michael Greenberg's group at Harvard Medical School and Austrian colleagues hypothesized that microRNAs are involved in the regulation of protein synthesis in neuronal dendrites. To test this, they overexpressed a hippocampal microRNA, miR-134, and found that it reduced the size of dendritic spines by inhibiting a protein kinase that induces spine development.

The impact:

"Until that paper people thought of microRNAs as having more constitutive roles," such as permanently repressing the translation of an mRNA, says Kenneth Kosik at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Instead, this study showed for the first time that microRNAs may also play a role in synaptic plasticity and the modulation of translation.

The others:

In 2007 Kosik published evidence that nearly all microRNAs present...

The follow up:

First author Gerhard Schratt, now at the University of Heidelberg, is interested in how those other microRNAs might be involved in synaptic plasticity. His lab has found (but not yet published) another neuronal microRNA that works opposite to miR-134 and promotes dendritic spine development. Schratt supposes there is a network of microRNAs for fine-tuning the synapse.

Consequences of changing miR-134 expression:
Overexpression: 16.9% reduction in dendritic spine width
Inhibition: 7.6% increase in dendritic spine width

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