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Cultured neuron stained with antibodies that label microtubules. NEK7 promotes the stability of the dendritic microtubules, which is important for proper dendrite growth and branching (F Freixo, IRB Barcelona).

New regulator of neuron formation identified

The protein NEK7 regulates neuron formation, as it is required for dendrite growth and branching, as well as the formation and shaping of dendritic spines. These are the main conclusions of a study published in Nature Communications and led by Jens Lüders at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) based in the Barcelona Science Park, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Molecular Biology Institute of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC) at PCB.


It is firmly established that, during cell division, NEK7 regulates microtubules and centrosomes—structures that help separate chromosomes during mitosis.  However, a function for this gene in neurons has never been reported. Microtubules are tiny filaments that shrink, lengthen, cluster and bend, depending on cell requirements. They are involved in cell mobility, cell division, and intracellular transport, among other functions.

The scientists have used in vitro and in vivo models to show that NEK7 is important for the correct formation of neurons in the hippocampus, a region in the brain involved mainly in the formation of memory. When researchers reduced the levels of NEK7, neurons did not form dendrites correctly. The dendrites became shorter and displayed fewer and improperly formed synaptic structures. 

The consequences that derive from the malformation of hippocampal neurons remain to be determined, but NEK7 deficiency results in a complex phenotype in mice, thereby suggesting that NEK7 has broader roles, potentially also in other brain regions.

► Reference article:

Francisco Freixo, Paula Martínez Delgado, Yasmina Manso, Carlos Sánchez Huertas, Cristina Lacasa, Eduardo Soriano, Joan Roig i Jens Lüders. “NEK7 regulates dendrite morphogenesis in neurons via Eg5-dependent microtubule stabilization”. Nature Communications, juny de 2018. Doi:

► For further information: IRB Barcelona website [+]