Kashmir Scientists’ Team Develops Crucial Tool That Helps Understand Brain Disorders

SRINAGAR: A Kashmiri researcher at the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) has led a team of scholars in developing an optogenetic tool that can help understand a basket of brain disorders. It has been the outcome of collaboration between JMI’s Multidisciplinary Centre for Advanced Research and Studies (MCARS) and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr Tanveer Ahmad (Jamia Millia Delhi)

The tool has the capacity to help in understanding Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.

Dr Tanveer Ahmad, who led the study, had earlier developed the first SARS-CoV-2 detection method in non-invasive saliva samples using CRISPR-Cas13 technology. He has done his postdoctoral training at NIH and later joined MCARS as an assistant professor. His interest is in genetic engineering to develop next-generation cell and gene therapies.

Ahmad said the tool should be a great help in future. “Understanding the molecular details of these diseases will help to develop targeted therapies, in particular viral and mRNA-based methods, which are specific to a particular target molecule in the cells,” Ahmad said on phone. “It can also be used to better understand memory formation, and for the development of inducible light-activated therapies for the treatment of cancer and neurodegeneration.”

A joint study was published in Journal of Cell Biology that explains the breakthrough tool. Ahmad is the lead author with Rituparna Chaudhuri and Nisha Chaudhary as contributors. The NIH team included Dr Andres Buonanno, Dr Detlef Vullhorst, Dr Carlos Guardia, Dr Irina Karavanova, and Dr Juan Bonifacino.

“Leveraging the potential of phototropic receptors known as light-oxygen-voltage sensing domains derived from the plant avena sativa (used to derive the common cereal oats, and abbreviated as AsLOV2) the researchers generated innovative chimeric molecular designs by conjugating a light-sensitive domain of LOV2 with a protein called neuregulin3 (NRG3),” Jamia said in a statement. “…diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and depression have genetic polymorphisms in NRG3 due to which it is considered as a susceptible gene for these diseases. Using this innovative tool, the researchers discovered a new mechanism of protein trafficking in hippocampal neurons of the brain which they termed as ‘trans-synaptic retention’.”

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Genetic screening and molecular methods previously developed by other research groups and by two of the authors in the study have shown NRG3 as an important protein implicated in psychiatric diseases.

“Using this innovative tool, the researchers discovered a new mechanism of protein trafficking in hippocampal neurons of the brain which they termed as “trans-synaptic retention”, the statement added.

MCARS Director, Prof Mohammad Zulfequar told reporters that these novel futuristic optogenetic techniques will provide unprecedented ease to understand human diseases and find innovative treatment solutions.

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