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May 23, 2007

NRG1 Inhibits and Excites Synapses

  • Two genes important for human development and implicated in cancer and schizophrenia also help keep a healthy balance between excitation and inhibition of brain cells, reported researchers from the Medical College of Georgia (MCG). Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) and its receptor, ErbB4, promote inhibition at the site of inhibitory synapses in the brain by increasing the release of GABA.

    Previously, the MCG team also showed that NRG1 and ErbB4 also are at excitatory synapses, communication points between neurons where the neurotransmitter glutamate excites cells to action.

    “Right beside the place where the excitatory synapse can be activated, there is also something that can suppress it,” says Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D., chief of developmental neurobiology at MCG. “Now we have identified another novel target of neuregulin-1, which is the inhibitory synapse.”

    Together the findings reveal a check and balance for brain cell activity managed by NRG1 in the brain's prefrontal cortex, according to the researchers. The report is in the May 24 issue of Neuron.



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Scientifically Studying Ecstasy

MDMA (commonly known as the empathogen “ecstasy”) is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which is reserved for compounds with no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential. Two researchers from Stanford, however, call for a rigorous scientific exploration of MDMA's effects to identify precisely how the drug works, the data from which could be used to develop therapeutic compounds.

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