✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 5 minutes
Deep within the labyrinth of cellular processes, post-translational modifications (PTMs) play pivotal roles in determining the function, location, and lifetime of proteins. Particularly in the realm of neurons, these tweaks to protein structures can profoundly influence neuronal function and health.
PTMs refer to the chemical alterations that proteins undergo after they have been synthesised. This process can involve adding a phosphate group, a carbohydrate chain, or even a lipid molecule to the protein. These modifications can change a protein's function, determine its localisation within the cell, or influence its interactions with other proteins.
Neurons, the principal cells of the nervous system, rely heavily on proteins for their structure and function. Modifications in these proteins can:
Alter Neuronal Signalling: Many neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels undergo PTMs, which can modulate their activity.
Influence Synaptic Plasticity: PTMs can determine how effectively neurons communicate with each other.
Regulate Cellular Traffic: They guide proteins to their correct destinations within the neuron.
Irregularities in PTMs have been linked to numerous neurodegenerative conditions:
Alzheimer's Disease: Abnormal phosphorylation of the tau protein leads to tangle formation, a hallmark of the disease.
Parkinson's Disease: Modifications in the α-synuclein protein contribute to its aggregation, resulting in the characteristic Lewy bodies.
Understanding the vast landscape of PTMs in neurons promises novel therapeutic approaches. Targeting these modifications could offer:
Precision Treatments: Tailored interventions based on the specific PTM irregularities of a patient.
New Diagnostic Tools: Detection of abnormal PTMs as early biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases.
The intricate world of post-translational modifications stands at the forefront of our understanding of neuronal function and dysfunction. As we continue to decode these protein alterations, we move a step closer to devising more effective treatments for debilitating neurological disorders.