Download PDF Copy Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc. May 8 2020
It works like a very fine "molecular knob" able to modulate the electrical activity of the neurons of our cerebral cortex, crucial to the functioning of our brain. Its name is Foxg1, it is a gene, and its unprecedented role is the protagonist of the discovery just published on the journal Cerebral Cortex . Foxg1 was already known for being a "master gene" able to coordinate the action of hundreds of other genes necessary for the development of our anterior central nervous system.
As this new study reports, the "excitability" of neurons, namely their ability to respond to stimuli, communicating between each other and carrying out all their tasks, also depends on this gene. To discover this, the researchers developed and studied animal and cellular models in which Foxg1 has an artificially altered activity: a lack of activity, as it happens in patients affected by a rare variant of Rett Syndrome, which leads to clinical manifestations of the autistic realm; or an excessive action, as in a specific variant of the West Syndrome, with neurological symptoms such as serious epilepsy and severe cognitive impairment. As deduced by the scientists in the research, the flaw in the "knob" lies in an altered electrical activity in the brain with important consequences for the entire system, similar to what happens in the two syndromes mentioned.
Shedding light on this mechanism, say the researchers, allows to understand more deeply the functioning of our central nervous system in sickness and in health, a fundamental step to assess possible future therapeutic interventions for these pathologies. What has just been published is the latest in a series of three studies on the Foxg1 gene, recently published by the researchers of SISSA on Cerebral Cortex . It is the result of a project begun more than five years ago, which saw the team of Professor Antonello Mallamaci of SISSA in the front line with researchers of the University of Trento and the Neuroscience Institute of Pisa, with the support of the Telethon Foundation, of the Fondation Jerome Lejeune and of the FOXG1 Research Foundation. The many abilities of the "master gene"
We knew that this gene is important for the development of the anterior central nervous system. In previous studies we had already highlighted how it was involved in the development of particular brain cells, the astrocytes, as well as the neuronal dendrites, which are part of the nerve cells that transport the incoming electrical signal to the cell. The fact that it had mutated in patients affected by specific variants of the Rett and West Syndromes in which we see, respectively, an insufficient and excessive activity of this gene, made us explore the possibility that its role was also another. And, from what has emerged, it would appear that way". Professor Antonello Mallamaci of SISSA The research findings
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