Research NewsDevelopmental Biology

Synapse-Making Molecules Revealed

Science  24 May 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5265, pp. 1100
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5265.1100


Every bend of the knee or blink of the eye depends on biochemical conversations between motor neurons and muscle cells. The lingua franca of these chats is the neurotransmitter, and during an embryo's development, the two cells must devise an intricate molecular junction, or synapse, to transfer these chemical signals. Now, with the help of two “conversationally impaired” mice, researchers have identified molecules that lay the groundwork for these vital talks. They've made “knockout” mice that are missing the gene for agrin, a nerve-derived protein, and are virtually devoid of neuromuscular junctions; another knockout that can't make these connections lacks the gene for MuSK, a newly identified muscle protein. MuSK, it appears, is the agrin receptor: The two proteins bind and could spark a cascade of events that lead to the making of a synapse.