Researchers at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science discover a new mechanism involved in the formation of neurons

Researchers at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science discover a new mechanism involved in the formation of neurons

By i9Magazine

Posted 25 November 2016 | 17:00 GMT


A research team from the Gulbenkian Institute of Science, led by Diogo Castro, discovered an important mechanism necessary for the formation of neurons during embryonic development.

The study reveals how the activation of genes conferring neuronal identity is coordinated with the suppression of genes that maintain the undifferentiated state of neuronal progenitor cells - neuronal stem cells.

This research, published in the magazine Cell Reports, presents an important step to better understand how the brain develops and can open new ways for better regenerative medicine therapies.

In the embryo, embryonic stem cells give origin to different types of specialized cells. What determines that one type of cell is different from another is the set of genes that is active in each cell type. However, very little is known about how the final state of differentiation is achieved.


How do neurons form?

The laboratory of Diogo Castro tries to unveil the mechanisms that lead to the formation of neurons. To achieve this end, the team studies important regulatory molecules called transcription factors. "These molecules act as conductors of an orchestra, controlling the identity of the cells by indicating which genes are active at each moment of embryonic development," explains Francisca Vasconcelos, the first author of this study and a researcher in Diogo Castro's laboratory.

By analyzing the brains of mouse embryos and neural stem cell cultures, the research team discovered that the MyT1 transcription factor promotes the formation of neurons. However, the results obtained after studying which genes regulated by this factor revealed a surprise: instead of activating the genes that confer neuronal identity, MyT1 "turns off" the genes that confer the characteristic undifferentiated state of the stem cells.

Diogo Castro explains these results through "changes in cell identity require not only the acquisition of new features or functions, but also the suppression of those that characterize the initial immature state. We found that MyT1 interconnects both events, revealing how these processes are synchronized so that they occur in an orderly form. "

Francisca Vasconcelos says that these results bring new knowledge to this area: "The better we understand how neurons form during embryonic development, the better regenerative medicine therapies may be designed in the future to address neurodegenerative diseases."

This study was developed at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science in collaboration with scientists from the San Raffaele Scientific Institute (Italy) and the Karolinska Institute (Sweden), and was fainted by the Foundation for Science and Technology and the Italian Ministry of Health.


Photo Copyrigth: Instituto Gulbenkian da Ciência -

For more information:

Article link:

Innovate, research, develop and undertake become essential in our day to day, such that i9 magazine comes as a monthly publication that aims to promote national projects over nine sections: 1. istart; 2. ipeople | ipeople flash; 3. iclusters; 4. ilab; 5. imarkets; 6. isocial; 7. itech; 8. iliving & trends; 9. izoom..