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Eureka!: Small Wonders

Following the Trail of a Hypersensitive Worm

Photo: Jordan Wood

By Charlotte Hsu

In experiments, the worm species C. elegans (pictured) exhibits weird behavior—backing away from nasty odors unusually fast—when it’s missing an enzyme called PRMT-5. Why should we care? A heightened sense of smell can signify problems with dopamine signaling, a process that facilitates communication between cells. When UB biologists Denise Ferkey and Michael Yu spotted the hypersensitive worms, they investigated what was happening behind the scenes and found that PRMT-5 helps to alter the function of certain cellular proteins in a way that promotes dopamine signaling. The discovery could open new treatment avenues for diseases linked to dopamine signaling defects, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.