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Friday, September 14, 2007

3-D fruit fly images help brain research

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Sept. 5 Scottish-led scientists have generated the first three-dimensional images of the inside of a fruit fly in an attempt to shed light on human disease.

Using an imaging technique called optical projection tomography, or OPT, developed at the Medical Research Council's Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, researchers said the images might aid genetic research into Alzheimer's and other human diseases that affect brain cells.

Mary O'Connell, who led the research, said: "Neurodegeneration -- the gradual loss of function of brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neuron diseases -- isn't a strictly human phenomenon. Insects are affected by it too."

The scientists used the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) since it and humans share many genes with similar functions. "It's already known that defects in the equivalent fly genes involved in human brain diseases cause brain cells in fruit flies to lose function as they age," O'Connell said, noting OPT could help researchers study how the fly brain changes in response to alterations in the normal activity of a specific gene without the risk of damaging tissue through dissection.

The research appears in the online journal PLoS One.

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