A leap from a frog to understand nerves
A detailed study of molecules called N-glycans in frog embryos suggests they play a vital role in developing the nervous systems in vertebrates, including ourselves.
The embryo of a frog might seem an odd place to look for insights into how our brains develop, but a study published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Molecular Omics may be revealing just that.
The African clawed frog Xenopus laevis is a well-established model organism used to investigate key aspects of vertebrate biology. Many of the most fundamental features of how our bodies work can be deciphered by studying creatures such as this little frog. This is due to biological processes that are shared between vertebrates and that likely evolved long before the path of our common ancestry diverged.
Norman Dovichi and colleagues at the Universities of Notre Dame and Wisconsin-Madison, USA, focused their attention on the role of molecules called N-glycans in vertebrate development. N-glycans are relatively small carbohydrate-based structures that are commonly attached to much larger protein molecules by a chemical bond to a nitrogen atom. They are believed to be crucial for many biochemical signalling processes and other functions. However, many details about their roles remain unclear.
Dovichi and colleagues identified and quantified the N-glycans present at six key stages in the development of X. laevis embryos. They noticed a big shift in the types of N-glycans that were present, and in their relative abundances, at a specific stage when development of the nervous system is getting into full flow. They propose that this ‘massive reprogramming’ of N-glycan activity suggests that N-glycans must play a vital role in the development of the nervous system of the frog, and by implication also in humans.
The researchers also examined proteins that had N-glycans attached, and found that that many were known to be associated with the development of nerve cells.
This pioneering study points to aspects of N-glycan activity that should now be investigated further, to learn more about how the nervous system is formed, perhaps eventually revealing new ways to prevent and treat nervous system defects and diseases.
Read the article: Quantitative Capillary Zone Electrophoresis-Mass Spectrometry Reveals the N-glycome Developmental Plan during Vertebrate Embryogenesis, Yanyan Qu, Kyle M. Dubiak, Elizabeth H. Peuchen, Matthew M. Champion, Zhenbin Zhang, Alex S. Hebert, Sarah Wright, Joshua J. Coon, Paul W. Huber and Norman J. Dovichi, Molecular Omics, 2020, Advance Article. DOI: 10.1039/D0MO00005A
This article is part of the Glycomics & Glycoproteomics: From Analytics to Function themed collection, guest-edited by Nicolle Packer, Morten Andersen and Daniel Kolarich.
Molecular Omics publishes high-quality research from across the -omics sciences. The Chair of the Editorial Board is Robert Moritz of the Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, USA. Molecular Omics welcomes scientific research based on the application of any -omics technology and it encourages multi-omics approaches to solving important chemical or biological problems.
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