Noggin Is the Protein That Keeps a Baby’s Skull from Fusing!

J Fun Fact Friday

Noggin, also known as NOG, is a protein that is involved in the development of many body tissues, including nerve tissue, muscles, and bones. In humans is encoded by the NOG gene. The amino acid sequence of human noggin has very similar structural features and patterns of genes to that of rat, mouse, and Xenopus (an aquatic-frog genus).

The protein’s name was coined in reference to its ability to produce embryos with large heads when exposed at high concentrations.

Noggin was discovered in the laboratory of Richard M. Harland and William C. Smith at the University of California, Berkeley because of this ability to induce secondary axis formation in aquatic frog embryos.

Some years later researchers identified the same protein to be responsible for ensuring correct skull growth in newborn mice. The protein, called Noggin, inhibits fusion of bony plates in the skull until developmentally appropriate.

According to Michael Longaker, MD, about 1 in 2000 children have growth plates in their skulls that fuse prematurely. He also states that the brain is rapidly expanding in size during the first years of life and if the brains container, the skull, can’t expand in similar fashion, it can become a problem. If this were left untreated,in addition to a very misshapen head, it could lead to mental retardation, blindness and seizures.

It was discovered that proteins that promote bone growth were present in all the growth plates of skulls in mice, both those that are actively fusing and those that were not. However the protein, Noggin, was only found between the plates that were left open and not fusing.