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New neurons for an old fish

I’ve written previously about biology professor Günther Zupanc’s work with teleost fish both here and on the News@northeastern site. The word teleost can be used to describe 20,000 different kinds of fish, but all of them have retained, in adult stages of life, the ability to regrow peripheral organs like hearts, fins and even portions of the central nervous system. In that regard, they are quite superior to we non-regenerative humans.

An upcoming article from Zupanc’s lab in the journal Neruoscience  will discuss one particular type of teleost fish — Apteronotus leptorhyncus — commonly called the brown ghost knifefish.* After an injury, the neural tissue of brown ghost knifefish is completely restored within a few weeks following a “cascade of events.” First, the damaged cells and cellular debris need to be flushed out of the body, then new cells need to be formed. The new cells will then differentiate into neurons and integrate into the existing neuronal circuits, according to the article. Finally, other mechanism kick in which promote cellular survival.

Clearly, quite a few things are going down in the foot-long body of a brown ghost knifefish after it gets wounded. And each of these processes requires a slew of proteins to be successful. Zupanc’s team has previously identified several of them that are in notably high or low concentrations three days after the injury. But this new paper looks at the scene just thirty minutes after injury, and shows that the course toward regeneration is set very early.

They identified 11 proteins that seem to be particularly important to the early stages of regeneration. The article looks at each of these and hypothesizes why they, over other compounds, might be significant. The 11 proteins are involved in processes as far reaching as blood clotting and electron transfer. They support energy metabolism and play roles in regeneration as well as degeneration.

“These results are very important for developing new therapeutic strategies to finally cure brain trauma,” said Zupanc.


*if I ever transform into a ninja fish, I hope I’ll be referred to as a ghost knifefish, don’t you?