Towards a Better Understanding of Learning and Memory; Smarter C. Elegans Worms Serve as a Model to Study Fundamental Mechanisms in Neuroscience

Apr 26, 2001, 01:00 ET from Hoffmann La Roche Inc.

    NUTLEY, N.J., April 26 /PRNewswire/ -- A major scientific breakthrough in
 the area of learning and memory was announced today by Roche scientists. The
 discovery, published in the April issue of Neuron, concerns a novel target and
 pathway that could lead to the development of a treatment for diseases with
 cognitive deficits such as Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, or aging.
     Cognition represents a sum of thinking skills that include perception,
 awareness, reasoning, intellect, judgment, imagination and memory. Those
 skills are significantly diminished with aging, and are severely impaired in
 Alzheimer's, schizophrenic, or depressed patients. Thus, understanding the
 molecular mechanisms involved in learning and memory could allow scientists to
 design medicines that improve cognition, an important medical need.
     To better understand the issue, scientists at Roche, led by Patrick Nef,
 Ph.D., vice-director and head of Molecular Neurobiology in the Central Nervous
 System (CNS) department in Basel, Switzerland, used a powerful model organism,
 the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), to dissect the molecular,
 cellular, and behavioral aspects of a simple form of associative learning and
 memory. "C. elegans and human neurons share molecular synaptic components such
 as receptors, transmitters, ion channels or enzymes, with very similar
 functions, which we believe will help scientists design better treatments for
 a wide range of illnesses," said Dr. Nef. Putting this theory to the test,
 they used C. elegans, to demonstrate that a form of associative learning
 (presence of food at a given temperature) is calcium-dependent, and requires
 the functional neuron-specific calcium sensor-1 (NCS-1) in the pair of
 interneurons called AIY.
     Moreover, they found that transgenic worms overexpressing NCS-1 learn
 faster, have a better performance level, and a longer memory, thus they are
 "smarter." As NCS-1 is highly conserved through evolution with 75% of identity
 between the human and C. elegans proteins, its role in learning and memory is
 likely to be similar in both species. These results indicate that C. elegans
 is a suitable organism to validate targets involved in improving or inhibiting
 cognitive functions in higher species.
     C. elegans is becoming a very attractive model, which can be used for
 target validation, pathway identification, and also for high-throughput
 screening of chemical libraries. In late 1998, it became the first eukaryotic
 multicellular organism whose genome (19,000 genes) was entirely deciphered.
 Comparative studies indicate that the C. elegans genome encodes 3 times more
 genes than yeast, 5 times more than E. coli, and about half of human genes.
 The hermaphrodite adult organism is composed of 959 somatic cells and its
 nervous system is composed of 302 neurons. It is amenable to genetic analysis,
 thus representing an ideal system to rapidly study the basis of fundamental
 mechanisms such as apoptosis (cell death), development (cell cycle,
 differentiation, oncology), and cell-cell communication (neurotransmitter
 release, synaptic efficacy).
 
     About Roche
     Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. (Roche), based in Nutley, N.J., is the U.S.
 prescription drug unit of the Roche Group, a leading research-based health
 care enterprise that ranks among the world's leaders in pharmaceuticals,
 diagnostics and vitamins. Roche discovers, develops, manufactures and markets
 numerous important prescription drugs that enhance people's health, well-being
 and quality of life. Among the company's areas of therapeutic interest are:
 dermatology; genitourinary disease; infectious diseases, including influenza;
 inflammation, including arthritis and osteoporosis; metabolic diseases,
 including obesity and diabetes; neurology; oncology; transplantation; vascular
 diseases; and virology, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
     For more information on the Roche pharmaceuticals business in the United
 States, visit the company's website at:  http://www.rocheusa.com
 
                     MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT -- Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X57823866
 
 

SOURCE Hoffmann La Roche Inc.
    NUTLEY, N.J., April 26 /PRNewswire/ -- A major scientific breakthrough in
 the area of learning and memory was announced today by Roche scientists. The
 discovery, published in the April issue of Neuron, concerns a novel target and
 pathway that could lead to the development of a treatment for diseases with
 cognitive deficits such as Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, or aging.
     Cognition represents a sum of thinking skills that include perception,
 awareness, reasoning, intellect, judgment, imagination and memory. Those
 skills are significantly diminished with aging, and are severely impaired in
 Alzheimer's, schizophrenic, or depressed patients. Thus, understanding the
 molecular mechanisms involved in learning and memory could allow scientists to
 design medicines that improve cognition, an important medical need.
     To better understand the issue, scientists at Roche, led by Patrick Nef,
 Ph.D., vice-director and head of Molecular Neurobiology in the Central Nervous
 System (CNS) department in Basel, Switzerland, used a powerful model organism,
 the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), to dissect the molecular,
 cellular, and behavioral aspects of a simple form of associative learning and
 memory. "C. elegans and human neurons share molecular synaptic components such
 as receptors, transmitters, ion channels or enzymes, with very similar
 functions, which we believe will help scientists design better treatments for
 a wide range of illnesses," said Dr. Nef. Putting this theory to the test,
 they used C. elegans, to demonstrate that a form of associative learning
 (presence of food at a given temperature) is calcium-dependent, and requires
 the functional neuron-specific calcium sensor-1 (NCS-1) in the pair of
 interneurons called AIY.
     Moreover, they found that transgenic worms overexpressing NCS-1 learn
 faster, have a better performance level, and a longer memory, thus they are
 "smarter." As NCS-1 is highly conserved through evolution with 75% of identity
 between the human and C. elegans proteins, its role in learning and memory is
 likely to be similar in both species. These results indicate that C. elegans
 is a suitable organism to validate targets involved in improving or inhibiting
 cognitive functions in higher species.
     C. elegans is becoming a very attractive model, which can be used for
 target validation, pathway identification, and also for high-throughput
 screening of chemical libraries. In late 1998, it became the first eukaryotic
 multicellular organism whose genome (19,000 genes) was entirely deciphered.
 Comparative studies indicate that the C. elegans genome encodes 3 times more
 genes than yeast, 5 times more than E. coli, and about half of human genes.
 The hermaphrodite adult organism is composed of 959 somatic cells and its
 nervous system is composed of 302 neurons. It is amenable to genetic analysis,
 thus representing an ideal system to rapidly study the basis of fundamental
 mechanisms such as apoptosis (cell death), development (cell cycle,
 differentiation, oncology), and cell-cell communication (neurotransmitter
 release, synaptic efficacy).
 
     About Roche
     Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. (Roche), based in Nutley, N.J., is the U.S.
 prescription drug unit of the Roche Group, a leading research-based health
 care enterprise that ranks among the world's leaders in pharmaceuticals,
 diagnostics and vitamins. Roche discovers, develops, manufactures and markets
 numerous important prescription drugs that enhance people's health, well-being
 and quality of life. Among the company's areas of therapeutic interest are:
 dermatology; genitourinary disease; infectious diseases, including influenza;
 inflammation, including arthritis and osteoporosis; metabolic diseases,
 including obesity and diabetes; neurology; oncology; transplantation; vascular
 diseases; and virology, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
     For more information on the Roche pharmaceuticals business in the United
 States, visit the company's website at:  http://www.rocheusa.com
 
                     MAKE YOUR OPINION COUNT -- Click Here
                http://tbutton.prnewswire.com/prn/11690X57823866
 
 SOURCE  Hoffmann La Roche Inc.