Science Market Update

Utah Zebrafish Research May Hold Solution To Mental Decline with Aging

Posted by BCI Staff on Wed, Oct 10, 2012

Zebrafish

(courtesy of HSC Core Research)

The Zebrafish may have found their very own fountain of youth, or at least part of their brain has. Neurobiology and Anatomy research professor Richard Dorsky, at the University of Utah, is studying how the Wnt pathway in Zebrafish can grow new nerve cells in the hypothalamus. Researchers have found that Zebrafish can keep on growing new nerve cells even into adulthood.  Dorsky's work understanding this mechanism of regeneration in the adult brain could ultimately offer insight into our own neuro-cognitive decline as a result of aging.

In the United States there are approximately 76 million baby boomers, and each year more and more are turning 65 years old. This means that maintaining a healthy functioning brain is becoming a higher and higher priority to a large portion of the population. At this time it seems inevitable that as we age, the normal brain will change physically and cognitively. This year it is estimated it will cost the U.S. $200 billion dollars to care for our 5.4 million Alzheimer’s patients, and the figure is expected to climb higher. In fact, by the year 2050 it is estimated that the cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will reach $1.1 trillion dollars. Add the devastating emotional impact on families faced with an elderly parent suffering from the disease, and it's clear why research into neuro-cognitive decline is so important.

It seems that the Dorksy lab is bringing us one step closer to being able to turn back the clock on the human brain. According to Dorsky, "Our research represents a significant contribution to the field because it ... can be used to shed light on the plasticity of the adult brain." Unlike humans, adult Zebrafish have a built in repair system for hypothalamus tissue damage in their brains. The fish’s neural stem cells lie in wait ready to respond to chemical signals of cell damage or death. Part of what makes the Wnt pathway so interesting is that it changes from its embryonic to adulthood. At the embryo stage, Wnt signaling is essentially an on switch that tells the neural stem cells to rapidly grow. This causes the rapid increase of progenitor cells. The progenitor cells arise from neural stem cells. With more development the progenitor cells differentiate into the brain's structures. But this changes in adult Zebrafish when the Wnt pathway becomes radically different.

HYPOTHALAMIC NEUROGENESIS(courtesy of Dorsky lab)

Dorsky
(Courtesy of Dorsky lab)

In a recent article by Dorsky, Wnt signaling regulates postembryonic hypothalamic progenitor differentiation, he describes how his lab research determined how the Wnt pathway in adult zebrafish signals cell regeneration. In adults, the Wnt has to have perfect timing in order for the progenitor cells to grow and differentiate. The Wnt pathway has to first turn on to start the growth and differentiation, then later turn off again to grow properly. It can’t just stay on.

Moreover, the lab studied mice in order to see how the Wnt pathway translates in other animal models. The researcher found that the wnt pathway in mice acts to stop the differentiation of glial cells. Moreover according to Dorsky: "In adult mice, hypothalamic neurogenesis seems to be significant in the regulation of feeding behaviors due to environmental changes."

So, the sooner we can find a cure for Neuro cognitve decline and turn back the time on our aging brain the better we will all be. So, with the help of a little fish, in the future we might be able to grow new neuro tissue in the hypothalamus. Who knew that the Zebrafish light lead us to our own neuro fountain of youth.

Members of the Dorsky lab include:

Dorsky lab
(Courtesy of Dorsky lab)

-Lisa Benko- Graduate Student-Characterization of Multipotent Spinal Cord Progenitors

-Rob Duncan- graduate student- Identification of Neural Stem Cells in the Zebrafish Hypothalamus

-Hyung-Seok Kim-Postdoctoral-Fellow-Tcf3 Targets in Spinal Cord Development

-Adam McPherson-Graduate-Student-Functional Analysis of Post-Embryonic Hypothalamic Neurogenesis

-Xu Wang-graduate student-lab manager- Wnt Signaling and Post-Embryonic Hypothalamic Neurogenesis

The Dorsky lab is part of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy which is located in the Wintrobe building adjacent to the school of medicine. The department occupies 17,000 square feet and has 13 department faculty researching: developmental biology, neuroscience, stem cells and regeneration, and neural disease and repair. The department currently uses several different animal models in its research: mouse, chicken, zebrafish, xenopus, and planaria.

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be holding its 13th Annual Salt Lake BioResearch Product Faire Front Line  event next on August 15, 2013. This professional show is an excellent opportunity for life scientists and lab equipment specialists to come together and discuss lab technologies to make every lab run at maximum efficiency. If you are unable to make it to our Utah show, these are other shows you might me interested in attending.

Tags: Bioscience research, Utah, university of utah, 2012, Front Line event, Salt Lake City

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