A recent article in UVa Today by Josh Barney highlights recent work from the lab of Dr. Bettina Winckler that challenges scientific dogma about how neurons stay healthy by disposing of cellular waste products. Neurons are large cells whose processes can extend over long distances in the body. Since most neurons have to survive the entire lifetime of an individual without dividing, it is important that they be able to turn over and destroy defective proteins. Up to now, it has been assumed that the neurons can do this locally throughout the cell (including the cellular process called dendrites) using organelles called lysosomes. This recent work (published in the Journal of Cell Biology with Dr. Chan Choo Yap as first author) shows that neurons transport their cellular waste products from the dendrites back to the cell body (the part of the cell closest to the nucleus) for destruction in a Rab-7 dependent manner. Mutations in Rab-7 can result in a serious neurological disease (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease). Dr. Winckler was also interviewed about this work by the local NBC TV affiliate station NBC 29.
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