Reading the Signals
It has been determined that gap junctions - the channels that connect cells in many tissues throughout the body - play a vital role in communicating information. Composed of proteins called connexins, gap junctions allow a variety of small molecules to pass freely from cell to cell, ensuring that the cells coordinate their responses to various signals.
Disruptions in gap junction coupling have been detected in some cancers and these channels appear to be involved in epilepsy and stroke. Mutations in connexin genes can result in various inherited diseases, including nervous system disorders, deafness, cataracts, heart defects and skin diseases.
A leading figure in gap junction research, Dr. Christian Naus will use genetically altered mice to conduct a research program to explore the role of gap junctions in neural development and disease, including consequences of connexin mutations on gap junction structure and function.
His research in developmental neuroscience will examine the function of gap junction coupling in the developing brain.
The role of gap junctions in association with neurological disorders will be examined in mouse models and with clinical tissues related to stroke, epilepsy and brain cancer.
In the areas of cell biology and cancer research, Dr. Naus will seek to determine the mechanisms underlying the tumor-suppressor function that gap junctions play, and the link between gap junctions and the expression of growth-control genes.
He will also explore the range of endogenous molecules that pass through gap junction channels, some of which are likely to be involved in the control of cell growth and differentiation. Given the evidence that some tumor therapeutic agents readily pass through gap junctions to help kill tumor cells, his research has the potential to lead to the development of novel cancer therapies.