Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 20, 2010
Exposing newborn neurons to higher than normal levels of a common immune protein results in abnormal brain development in mice studies, according to scientists from the University of California.
The discovery provides fresh insight into factors leading to human neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
The research team observed a protein called major histocompatibility complex, or MHC. This protein plays a double role in the body. It alerts the immune system to infected cells, and it helps neurons make the right connections with one another in the brain.
“When neurons sense infection or damage to the brain, they produce more MHC,” said Daniel Kaufman, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“We wanted to explore whether higher levels of MHC affect how the brain develops.”
Kaufman and his team studied the development of mice whose neurons were genetically engineered to produce higher-than-average levels of MHC.
Honing in on two key areas of the brain, the scientists focused on neurons that process vision as well as neurons associated with learning and memory. Then the researchers compared these cells with their counterparts in normal mice.
The results confirmed their initial ideas.