Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Copper Circuits Help Brain Function -- Could Tweaking The Circuits Make Us Smarter?

Date:
September 26, 2006
Source:
Washington University School of Medicine
Summary:
The flow of copper in the brain has a previously unrecognized role in cell death, learning and memory, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers' findings suggest that copper and its transporter, a protein called Atp7a, are vital to human thinking. They speculate that variations in the genes coding for Atp7a, as well as other proteins of copper homeostasis, could partially account for differences in thinking among individuals.

The flow of copper in the brain has a previously unrecognized role in cell death, learning and memory, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers' findings suggest that copper and its transporter, a protein called Atp7a, are vital to human thinking. They speculate that variations in the genes coding for Atp7a, as well as other proteins of copper homeostasis, could partially account for differences in thinking among individuals.

Related Articles


Using rat and mouse nerve cells to study the role of copper in the brain, the researchers found that the Atp7a protein shuttles copper to neural synapses, the junctions that allow nerves to talk to one another.

At synapses, the metal ions affect important components responsible for making neural connections stronger or weaker. The changing strength of neural connections — called synaptic plasticity — accounts for, among other things, our ability to remember and learn.

"Why don't we think a hundred times better than we do?" asks senior author Jonathan Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. "One answer to that question is, perhaps we could — if the brain could make the right connections. We've found that copper modulates very critical events within the central nervous system that influence how well we think."

The research was led by neuroscience graduate students Michelle Schlief, Ph.D., and Tim West, Ph.D., in collaboration with Anne Marie Craig, Ph.D., and David M. Holtzman, M.D., the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology and appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found that when a chemical signal, or neurotransmitter, hits one of the microscopic antennas present at nerve synapses, Atp7a reacts and quickly brings copper ions from their storage areas within nerve cells to the cell surface.

When released into neural synapses, the copper damps down the activity of these antennas, called NMDA receptors. The activity of NMDA receptors determines how strong the connections between nerves cells are and changes in the receptors' activity are critical to cell survival, learning and memory.

"In the brain, some neurons have strong connections, and some have weak connections, but this is changing all the time," says Gitlin, who is also director of genetics and genomic medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital and scientific director of the Children's Discovery Institute. "The plasticity of the connections between neurons is important for nerve cell survival and for our ability to think the way we do. The NMDA receptors are a large component of this process, and we've found that Atp7a and copper are key factors controlling them."

Since the Atp7a protein is responsible for moving copper in nerves, variations in the gene for Atp7a could influence copper flow in the nervous system and the function of NMDA receptors.

The researchers' findings stem from earlier research on the rare neurodegenerative disorder Menkes disease, which results from an abnormal Atp7a gene. The loss of properly functioning Atp7a protein in Menkes patients leads to impairment of copper distribution in the body. Children born with the disease have intractable seizures and mental retardation and seldom live beyond the age of ten.

The current research showed that in mouse nerve cells that lacked Atp7a and so were not able to bring copper to synapses, the resulting high activity of NMDA receptors caused excitotoxic cell death, a process that kills nerve cells that have been overstimulated. This suggests that in the brains of people with Menkes, NMDA receptors, no longer appropriately modulated by copper, may kill important neurons and cause neuronal degeneration.

Pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that inhibit excitotoxic nerve cell death, and Gitlin thinks, in light of these new findings, such compounds may someday lead to an effective treatment for Menkes disease.

To find out more about how copper and Atp7a influence thinking, the researchers next plan to breed laboratory mice in which they can selectively knock out Atp7a in the hippocampus, an area of the brain essential to memory. Then they can investigate whether these mice have problems performing tasks they had once learned.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University School of Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University School of Medicine. "Copper Circuits Help Brain Function -- Could Tweaking The Circuits Make Us Smarter?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926072248.htm>.
Washington University School of Medicine. (2006, September 26). Copper Circuits Help Brain Function -- Could Tweaking The Circuits Make Us Smarter?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926072248.htm
Washington University School of Medicine. "Copper Circuits Help Brain Function -- Could Tweaking The Circuits Make Us Smarter?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060926072248.htm (accessed January 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Malnutrition on the Rise as Violence Flares in C. Africa

Malnutrition on the Rise as Violence Flares in C. Africa

AFP (Jan. 28, 2015) Violence can flare up at any moment in Bambari with only a bridge separating Muslims and Christians. Malnutrition is on the rise and lack of water means simple cooking fires threaten to destroy makeshift camps where people are living. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Poultry Culled in Taiwan to Thwart Bird Flu

Poultry Culled in Taiwan to Thwart Bird Flu

Reuters - News Video Online (Jan. 28, 2015) Taiwan culls over a million poultry in efforts to halt various strains of avian flu. Julie Noce reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Media Criticizing Parents For Not Vaccinating Children

Media Criticizing Parents For Not Vaccinating Children

Newsy (Jan. 28, 2015) As the Disneyland measles outbreak continues to spread, the media says parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are part of the cause. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Bite Victim Making Amazing Recovery

Shark Bite Victim Making Amazing Recovery

AP (Jan. 27, 2015) A Texas woman who lost more than five pounds of flesh to a shark in the Bahamas earlier this month could be released from a Florida hospital soon. Experts believe she was bitten by a bull shark while snorkeling. (Jan. 27) Video provided by AP
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