Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Protein Network Clues to Autism

Clues to Autism Emerge in Protein Network - ScienceNOW

Autism is as puzzling for scientists as it is heartbreaking for parents. Some patients function well despite a few behavioral quirks, whereas others are profoundly disabled. The dozens of "suspect genes" are scattered among various types of the disorder and show up in only a handful of patients. Now, by shifting focus from the genes to the proteins they produce, researchers have identified a densely connected network that may help reveal how autism develops. The finding may also lay the framework for developing new treatments, even for very different types of the disorder.

The inspiration to look for a protein network came from the research of geneticist Marc Vidal of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. Vidal had mapped the first of these networks—later known as interactomes—in the wake of the Human Genome Project. "The Human Genome Project gave us a list of parts," Vidal explains. "By studying how the proteins interacted, we could see how the parts were assembled."

Proteins working together inside cells sometimes physically touch each other; often, many of them will also link to a few central proteins that play a key role in a particular biological process.

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