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New screening system may help find Botox substitute

Local researchers said Monday they have developed a low-cost screening system that may potentially help discover natural substances that will work as a substitute for materials related to neurotransmission like Botox.

The study, led by a team of researchers from the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, focuses on identifying the process of synaptic vesicle membrane fusion, which involves the synaptic vesicle and the neuron. The fusion secretes a neurotransmitter, the interaction of which allows for human brain activity. This means the study of synaptic vesicle membrane fusion is critical to researching nerve-related diseases.

Studies related to the neurotransmitter, however, had been limited. According to professor Jeon Yeong-su of GIST, who participated in the study, research using the existing neurons from animals is pricey and difficult to conduct on a large scale because they cannot artificially reproduce the cells.

Some researchers use artificial liposomes reconstituted with recombinantly expressed proteins, but the studies based on the material are not very reliable.

Jeon’s team used engineered yeast vacuoles with neuronal SNARE ― Soluble NSF Attachment Protein Receptor ― to mediate in vitro vesicle fusion. They found that SNARE was the key factor in the membrane fusion.

By discovering a new way to recreate the fusion process, the researchers are saying a mass-scale screening process on neurotransmitters is possible.

“The study’s significance lies in opening a path to cheap, large-scale research on nerve-related diseases,” Jeon said.

He also said the screening process could potentially pinpoint materials that could substitute materials related to neurotransmission such as botulinum toxin. While the substance is widely used aesthetically to treat wrinkles, it has many side effects such as paralysis and even death.

“Many of the brain’s activity is related to neurotransmission, such as memory, pain and the learning process,” said Jeon. He said theoretically, the screening system can be used in various studies on repression and other brain activities.

By Yoon Min-sik (