A study has been performed through the collaboration of an international team of researchers under the supervision of Sebastian Jessberger, who is a professor at the Brain Research Institute, part of the University of Zurich. This research has made groundbreaking discoveries regarding the role that an enzyme that regulates the metabolism of lipids plays in the brain development and the activity of brain stem cells over the entire lifetime of an individual.
The enzyme, called FASN (Fatty acid synthase), forms fatty acids, as the name suggests. A mutation in its genetic code could be the cause of cognitive deficits in affected individuals. Ph.D. students Daniel Gonzalez-Bohorquez and Tong Liang, together with postdoc Megan Bowers have led the observation of genetic change in FASN in mice, but also in human cerebral organoids, which are cell cultures resembling organs that are created from real embryonic stem cells.
The link between brain development and the metabolism of lipids
Using organoids enables the analysis of the effects the mutated enzyme has in the brains of mice and during the development of human embryos. Part of the study was altering the genetic information of human organoids and mice in an experimental manner, leading to the enzyme responsible for lipid metabolism to exhibiting the same mutation as found in individuals with cognitive disabilities. The fatty acid synthase mutation was the cause of a reduction in the division of stem cells, which generate new nerve cells constantly, both in mice and humans.
The cause of this phenomenon is the hyperactivity of the mutated enzyme, since fat cells accumulate in the interior of the cell, thus putting it under stress and making division more difficult. With a lot in common to cognitive deficits in affected people, mice additionally showed memory and learning deficits because of this mutation. Jessberger declared that their results are evidence of a correlation between the metabolism of lipids, cognitive performance, brain development, and stem cell activity.
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