NEW YORK, Sept. 8 (UPI) — The discovery of a single gene that organizes motor neurons in the spinal cord could lead to treatments for spinal injuries and diseases, U.S. researchers say.
Scientists at New York University, in an article in the journal Neuron, say the “master organizer” is a member of the Hox family of genes, best known for controlling the overall pattern of body development.
Humans have 39 such genes and 21 have been identified as coordinating motor neurons in the spinal cord.
In human, as in all mammals, hundreds of motor neurons are needed to control the variety of muscle cells used to coordinate movement.
“We knew that there were 21 Hox genes that determine how connections are made between motor neurons in the spinal cord and muscles in the limbs,” Jeremy S. Dasen, an associate professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at NYU, said. “But what was surprising to us in this study was that a single Hox gene acts as a global organizer of motor neurons and their connections.
“The next step will be to see how Hoxc9 in motor neurons affect motor behaviors such as walking and breathing,” he said.
The findings could give clues to treatments of diseases such as ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and treatments for those suffering spinal injuries, the article said.
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