Neurological disorders can result from a number of different problems in a person’s body. Genetic mutations and injury are just a couple, but scientists have now made a connection between a certain molecule and overall healthy brain structure. They have found that a lack of this molecule can lead to a wide array of neurological problems.
The study, which was published in the July issue of The FASEB Journal, proposes that sialic acid plays a major role in how brain cells communicate with each other. It acts as a sort of conductor for brain signals by attaching to cell surfaces.
"Sialic acid is part of the molecular language that cells use to communicate among themselves," explains Ronald L. Schnaar, who is a lead researcher of the study. “As we learn that language, we can use the knowledge to better understand disease and perhaps to thoughtfully intervene.”
Brain cells not communicating properly
Neurological problems can often occur when there is a change in how sialic acid attaches to the cells. The researchers tested this theory by altering mouse genes that were responsible for sialic acid attachment in the brain. Afterwards, they compared these altered mice to ones that had not been mutated.
Schnaar and his team found that the altered mice had substantial neurological problems when compared to the mice in the control group. Some of these included poor motor skills, hyperactivity, and difficulty in learning. It is possible that this results from their brain cells not being able to communicate with each other properly.
“The molecular codes that control the human brain are as yet poorly worked out…This report shows how small molecules such as sialic acid direct cell communication to profoundly affect behavior. With this information, researchers have new ways to work out the mechanisms that determine hyperactivity and other brain disorders,” said Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.