MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Li ZENG, Ph.D.
Neural Stem Cell Research Lab
National Neuroscience Institute
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Zeng: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of highly inheritable behavioural disorders that pose major personal and public health concerns. Patients with ASDs have mild to severe communication difficulties, repetitive behaviour and social challenges. Such disorders significantly challenge an individual’s ability to conduct daily activities and function normally in society. Currently there are very few medication options that effectively treat ASDs. Therefore, there is a need to better understand the biology of that produces Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms.
In the study, we found how one brain-specific microRNA (miR-128) plays a key role in causing abnormal brain development. MicroRNAs are small molecules that regulate gene expression in the human body to ensure proper cellular functions. Although it was known that miR-128 is misregulated in some patients with autism, what that meant and how it functioned was not known. We showed that miR-128 targets a protein called PCM1 that is critical to the cell division of neural precursor cells (NPCs). NPCs during early brain development have two fates – they either stay as NPCs and undergo self-renewal or become neurons through differentiation. The dysfunctional regulation of PCM1 by misregulated miR-128 impairs brain development, which may underlie brain size changes in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Zeng: For the first time, we have managed to show that miR-128 is a mechanism that regulates early neuronal behaviour during brain development. Targeting this mechanism may be the answer to diagnose and treat Autism Spectrum Disorders that are caused by abnormal brain development.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Zeng: Future studies could investigate in more detail how miR-128 and PCM1 affect how the neurons in the cortex develop and work.
Wei Zhang, Paul Jong Kim, Zhongcan Chen, Hidayat Lokman, Lifeng Qiu, Ke Zhang, Steven George Rozen, Eng King Tan, Hyunsoo Shawn Je, Li Zeng. MiRNA-128 regulates the proliferation and neurogenesis of neural precursors by targeting PCM1 in the developing cortex. eLife, 2016; 5 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.11324
Dr. Li Zeng (2016). Regulation of microRNAs in the Brain May Be One Key to Autism Spectrum Disorders