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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A protien called Otx 2

August 7, 2008

Researchers have long sought a factor that can trigger the brain's ability to learn - and perhaps recapture the "sponge-like" quality of childhood. In the August 8 issue of the journal Cell, neuroscientists at Children's Hospital Boston report that they've identified such a factor, a protein called Otx 2.
Otx2 helps a key type of cell in the cortex to mature, initiating a critical period--a window of heightened brain plasticity, when the brain can readily make new connections.

Takao Hensch, PhD, of the Neurobiology Program and Department of Neurology at Children's, the study's senior investigator, speculates that there may be similar factors from the auditory, olfactory and other sensory systems that help time critical periods. Timing is important, because the brain needs to rewire itself at the right moment--when it's getting the optimal sensory input.

Hensch, who last fall won the highly competitive NIH Director's Pioneer Award, is also interested in the transport mechanism that propagates Otx2 from the retina to the cortex. He speculates that Otx2 itself could be a carrier for factors you'd want to deliver to the brain, envisioning eye drops for brain disorders such as schizophrenia, in which parvalbumin cells don't properly mature.

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