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Sunday, September 21, 2014

MU Researcher identifies coding gene needed for key locomotor skills

Waters began his research as a post-doctoral student at the National Cancer Institute.

April 29, 2014

Samuel Waters, assistant professor of biological sciences at MU, has identified a coding gene linked to locomotor skills and central nervous system development, which may lead to a better understanding of locomotor defects that can result from strokes or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Waters’ research explores transcription factors Gbx-1 and Gbx-2, proteins responsible for binding specific DNA sequences. Scientists were beginning to learn more about the function of Gbx-2 in the central nervous system when Waters began his research as a post-doctoral student at the National Cancer Institute.

“With Gbx-1 there was nothing known at all, so as a (postdoctoral student), I cloned its sequence (because) the gene sequence wasn't known at the time,” Waters said. “In that study, I did an expression analysis of the genes to see what's located in the developing embryo.”

Following analysis, Waters then observed the influence of Gbx-1 on mice through a loss of function study. By inactivating Gbx-1 in mice, Waters was able to see the walking defects that result from lack of Gbx-1.

“Studies that I'd done at the National Cancer Institute were not very insightful as to why this locomotor defect was occurring,” Waters said. “Once I got here, I followed up on that work and we were able to show how Gbx-1 is affecting development of the central nervous system and different components within the central nervous system that could contribute to our ability to walk.”

Even though he has identified the essentiality of Gbx-1 and its influence on the development of neurons in the spinal cord, Waters said he still has plenty of research left to do.

“We're not sure which combination of those interneurons are required specifically for locomotion since multiple neurons are impacted,” Waters said. “Now we'll have to address each neuronal population specifically, and we'll do that again with loss of function studies.”

By figuring out which neurons are directly targeted by Gbx-1, Waters and his research team can work toward therapeutic methods.

“There are a number of developmental defects or disorders that affect locomotion as well as just injury to the spinal cord,” Waters said. “Whether it be a blunt injury like a car accident or a stroke or something like that, this type of research will definitely shed some light to those areas.”

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