The team created mutations in mice so that they were missing the gene for a protein called densin-180, which is abundant in the synapses of the brain, those electro-chemical connections between one neuron and another that enable the formation of networks between the brain's neurons. This protein sticks to and binds together several other proteins in a part of the neuron that's at the receiving end of a synapse and is called the postsynapse. "Our work indicates that densin-180 helps to hold together a key piece of regulatory machinery in the postsynaptic part of excitatory brain synapses," says Kennedy.
In mice lacking densin-180, the researchers found decreased amounts of some of the other regulatory proteins normally located in the postsynapse. Kennedy and her colleagues were especially intrigued by a marked decrease in the amount of a protein called DISC1. "A mutation that leads to loss of DISC1 function has been shown to predispose humans to development of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," Kennedy says.