A team headed by Eduardo Soriano at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has published a study in Nature Communications describing a new family of six genes whose function regulates the movement and position of mitochondria in neurons. Many neurological conditions, including Parkinson's and various types of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, are caused by alterations of genes that control mitochondrial transport, a process that provides the energy required for cell function.
By means of comparative genomic analyses, the scientists have discovered that these genes are found only in more evolved mammals, the so-called Eutharia, these characterized by internal fertilization and development. "This finding indicates the relevance of mitochondrial biology. When the brain evolved in size, function and structure, the mitochondrial transport process also became more complex and probably required additional regulatory mechanisms", says Soriano. "Likewise, given the origin of the gene cluster, in the transition between primitive mammals, such as marsupials (kangaroos) and the remaining placental mammals, it is tempting to propose that the cluster is linked to the increased complexity of the cerebral cortex in the lineage that leads to humans.