Proneural proteins work by binding to specific patterns in the DNA, called E-boxes, with the help of E proteins. E proteins are typically understood to be passive partners, working with each different proneural protein indiscriminately. However, Gwenvael Le Dréau and cols. discovered that E proteins in fact have a much more active role to play
The brain and spinal cord are made up of a range of cell types that carry out different roles within the central nervous system. Each type of neuron is uniquely specialized to do its job. Neurons are produced early during development, when they differentiate from a group of cells called neural progenitor cells. Within these groups, molecules called proneural proteins control which types of neurons will develop from the neural progenitor cells, and how many of them.
Using chick embryos, it was found that E proteins influence the way different proneural proteins bind to DNA. The E proteins have preferences for certain E-boxes in the DNA, just like proneural proteins do. The E proteins enhanced the activity of the proneural proteins that share their E-box preference, and reined in the activity of proneural proteins that prefer other E-boxes. As a result, the E proteins controlled the ability of these proteins to instruct neural progenitor cells to produce specific, specialized neurons, and thus ensured that the distinct types of neurons were produced in appropriate amounts.
These findings will help shed light on the roles E proteins play in the development of the central nervous system, and the processes that control growth and lead to cell diversity. The results may also have applications in the field of regenerative medicine, as proneural proteins play an important role in cell reprogramming.
Gwenvael Le Dréau, René Escalona, Raquel Fueyo, Antonio Herrera, Juan D Martínez, Susana Usieto, Anghara Menendez, Sebastián Pons, Marian A Martinez-Balbas, and Elisa Marti (2018)E proteins sharpen neurogenesis by modulating proneural bHLH transcription factors activity in an E-box-dependent manner. Elife. 2018 Aug 10;7. pii: e37267. doi: 10.7554/eLife.37267 https://elifesciences.org/articles/37267