Study brings secrets of brain cell communication closer

6 Oct 2011

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have taken a significant step towards unravelling the mechanism by which communication between brain cells occurs.

Findings from a study just published in Nature Communications reveals that the lipid (fat) from the membranes of brain cells controls the movement of vesicles containing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

QBI’s Associate Professor Frederic Meunier, who led the study, says these findings were made possible through experimentation with very selective compounds affecting the membrane.

“Our findings explain how minute changes in the lipid composition of our neurons can have a dramatic effect on the way these cells communicate with each other in the brain,” he says.

“We found that the lipid phosphatidylinositol(4,5)bisphosphate orchestrates the mobilization and movement of secretory vesicles towards the plasma membrane of neurosecretory cells.”

According to Associate Professor Meunier, a better understanding of the mechanism underpinning neurotransmitter release will aid scientists’ ongoing fight against the plethora of diseases affecting neuronal communication in the brain.

“Changes in lipid composition have already been shown to be a factor contributing to the development of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.

“We hope that developing novel compounds targetting the fat lipid composition of biological membranes could ultimately help in the treatment of such brain disorders.”

The study was carried out in conjunction with colleagues from The University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Sciences, Flinders University in South Australia, the Centre for Cell Signalling within the Institute of Cancer in London, the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases in Melbourne’s Monash University and the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany.


Denise Cullen
Executive Communications Officer
Phone: +61 7 3346 6434

Frederic Meunier
Associate Professor, QBI
Tel: +61 7 3346 6373


Neuronal trafficking laboratory

Neurons are highly polarized cells that transport membrane compartments called vesicles. They underpin functions like neuronal communication through the release of neurotransmitters at the synapse and carry important survival factors from the synapse back to the cell body. The focus of our laboratory is to decipher the puzzle of molecular events underpinning these trafficking events in neurons and neurosecretory cells and see how the puzzle is affected by medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Our ultimate aim is to understand the sequence of molecular interactions underpinning the release of neurotransmitter, the recycling of synaptic vesicles, the internalisation and trafficking of survival factors and their receptors.

Queensland Brain Institute

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) was established as a research institute of the University of Queensland in 2003. The Institute is now operating out of a $63 million state-of-the-art facility and houses 33 principal investigators. QBI is one of the largest neuroscience institutes in the world dedicated to understanding the mechanisms underlying brain function.