Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chemical Receptor Key To Fetal Development; Possible Connection To SIDS, Preemie Problems

Date:
May 3, 2000
Source:
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology
Summary:
A well-known chemical receptor in the brain associated with learning and memory probably also plays a key role in fetal development of the respiratory system, MIT researchers and colleagues will report in the May 1 Journal of Neuroscience.

A well-known chemical receptor in the brain associated with learning and memory probably also plays a key role in fetal development of the respiratory system, MIT researchers and colleagues will report in the May 1 Journal of Neuroscience.

The work indicates that "it would be prudent for pregnant women to avoid prolonged exposure to substances that affect the activity of this receptor," said Dr. Chi-Sang Poon, a Principal Research Scientist in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and first author of the paper. Such substances include alcohol, PCP (angel dust), and some common anesthetic and analgesic drugs such as ketamine.

Mutant mice lacking the receptor "couldn't breathe or suckle well," said Dr. Poon, who noted that these symptoms are common in premature babies and are risk factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. "Our study indicates a possible connection between abnormal receptor activity and problems in newborns," he said, although he stressed that more studies are needed to clarify this. Dr. Poon's coauthors are Zhongren Zhou, a former HST postdoctoral fellow, and Jean Champagnat of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France.

Surprise finding

In a twist that took the researchers by surprise, they also found that a lack of this receptor led to high amounts of longterm synaptic depression (LTD), an activity linked to learning and memory. The kicker: the increased LTD was found in the brainstem, an area of the brain not usually associated with such "higher-level" functions.

"Conventional wisdom is that the brainstem coordinates lower behaviors like breathing and other vital functions, while the forebrain handles intelligence," Dr. Poon explained. "The discovery in the brainstem of activity associated with learning supports my argument that there's also a lot of intelligence going on beneath our conscious being."

The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is key to the communication of a chemical signal between two nerve cells. That process, repeated between many cells, "is how a signal is propagated through the brain," Dr. Poon said. The effectiveness of the transmission between cells can change, or be modified, over time. "That plasticity is widely thought to be the basis for learning and memory," Dr. Poon said. "If the modification lasts for a long time, you remember!"

Because it is so involved in this process, the NMDA receptor has been of interest to scientists studying learning and memory. To that end, a few years ago MIT biology professor and Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa developed mutant mice lacking a key subunit of the NMDA receptor. "The idea was to see how knocking out the NMDA receptor affects the hippocampus on a cellular level, then how it affects learning and memory in the entire animal," Dr. Poon said.

Unexpected Hitch

There was an unexpected hitch: the animals died soon after birth. Professor Tonegawa and colleagues later solved the problem by restricting the NMDA knockout to a specific area of the brain rather than throughout the organ. "But I was always interested in exactly why the first animals were dying," Dr. Poon said. He and his colleagues explored a variety of potential reasons for the deaths.

Ultimately they found the answer: the lack of NMDA receptors during prenatal development led to fatal respiratory distress. (Normal newborn mice treated with drugs that block NMDA receptor activity did not have any respiratory problems.)

"This is the first indication that prenatal development of specific regions in the brain controlling vital functions is very much dependent on NMDA receptor activity, and a lack of NMDA receptor activity in the fetus could affect newborns' breathing after birth," Dr. Poon said. In addition, the unexpected increase in LTD in the brainstems of the mutant mice "shows that learning and memory at a subconscious level could profoundly influence our vital functions," Dr. Poon said.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and the Human Frontier Science Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. "Chemical Receptor Key To Fetal Development; Possible Connection To SIDS, Preemie Problems." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 May 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000502185144.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. (2000, May 3). Chemical Receptor Key To Fetal Development; Possible Connection To SIDS, Preemie Problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000502185144.htm
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. "Chemical Receptor Key To Fetal Development; Possible Connection To SIDS, Preemie Problems." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000502185144.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) — Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) — We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) — A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) — Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins