Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Pig, the Fish and the Jellyfish: Tracing Nervous Disorders in Humans

Oct. 17, 2013 — What do pigs, jellyfish and zebrafish have in common? It might be hard to discern the connection, but the different species are all pieces in a puzzle. A puzzle which is itself part of a larger picture of solving the riddles of diseases in humans.

The pig, the jellyfish and the zebrafish are being used by scientists at Aarhus University to, among other things, gain a greater understanding of hereditary forms of diseases affecting the nervous system. This can be disorders like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epilepsy and the motor neurone disease ALS.

In a project, which has just finished, the scientists have focussed on a specific gene in pigs. The gene, SYN1, encodes the protein synapsin, which is involved in communication between nerve cells. Synapsin almost exclusively occurs in nerve cells in the brain. Parts of the gene can thus be used to control an expression of genes connected to hereditary versions of the aforementioned disorders.

The pig
The SYN1 gene can, with its specific expression in nerve cells, be used for generation of pig models of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. The reason scientists bring a pig into the equation is that the pig is well suited as a model for investigating human diseases.

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