IRCM’s researchers make one more step in understanding Alzheimer’s disease mechanism

Jan. 28 2016 | Neurobiology

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On this Alzheimer Awareness Month, IRCM’s Neural Circuit Development research unit makes one more step in understanding this cognitive impairment. Dr. Artur Kania and research associate Dr. Chris Law in collaboration with groups in Québec, New York and Amsterdam, revealed an unexpected mechanism related to the assembly of early neuronal circuits. 

In adulthood, neurons communicate through the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters into synapses, specialized junctions between neurons. “Munc18-1 is a protein that plays a crucial role in releasing neurotransmitters into the synapse, where they come into contact with a post-synaptic cell.  However, it was unclear if Munc18-1 was necessary in the developmental stages of the nervous system,” explains Chris Law, research associate in Dr. Kania’s group.  In order to determine this, the research group compared the development of the spinal motor circuit in normal mice, and mice that do not produce Munc18-1. 

The researchers found that at first, the neurons of the mice without Munc18-1 developed similarly to normal mice. Given the role of Munc18-1 in synaptic activity, this finding suggests that the release of neurotransmitters is not necessary for the normal development of young spinal neurons.  However, later on during embryonic development, the absence of Munc18-1 caused the appearance of various pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.  This opens new avenues of investigation into potential relations between neurodegenerative conditions and the degeneration caused by the absence of Munc18-1.

About the study
The discovery was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The research was conducted in collaboration with the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec, the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York City and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The study received financial support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Engineering of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the National Institutes of Health, Brain Canada, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and the Whitehall Foundation Research.

About Artur Kania
Artur Kania obtained his PhD in human and molecular genetics from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, USA. He is Associate IRCM Research Professor and Director of the Neural Circuit Development research unit. Dr. Kania is Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de Montréal. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), the Department of Biology, and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University. In addition, he is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Neuroscience (CENUM) at the Université de Montréal, and a member of the Quebec Pain Research Network from the Fonds de la recherche du Québec – Santé.