Worm Gene Offers Clues to Nerve Cell Repair

Biologists from the University of Utah have identified a worm gene that seem to aid in regenerating damaged nerve cells. The said worm gene has shown instances where it could help speed nerve regeneration by over-activating the gene. This finding may someday offer hope for people who are afflicted with conditions that cause damage to the nerves such as multiple sclerosis or even help people with spinal cord injuries.

According to Professor Michael Bastiani, head researcher and member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah, "We discovered a molecular target for a future drug that could vastly improve the ability of a neuron to regenerate after injury".

The said molecular target involves the identification of a gene known as dlk-1, also known as MAP kinase kinase kinase or MAPKKK. When the researchers tried to overexpress the said gene in worms, making them overactive, damaged nerves in the worms began to regenerate more quickly that what was expected. When the dlk-1 was blocked, nerve regeneration did not take place.

The said study involved the use of nematode worms, known by scientists to have certain molecules that are similar to humans that also perform the same functions. The scientists were able to find a chain of molecules that not only regenerates the nerves in worms, but also can be found in humans and may also be believed to serve the same purpose.

Bastiani believes that finding a way to stimulate nerve regeneration may someday help doctors find a treatment for multiple sclerosis, a disease characterized by nerve damage brought about by the loss of its insulating coat known as myelin.

Nerve cells are known to have the ability to regenerate in the embryo. But this ability fades and eventually is lost as the organism grows. Nerve cells found in the brain and the spinal cord are prime examples.

In the study, the research team worked on identifying the genes in worms that are involved in nerve regeneration. Through a process called RNA interference, the team was able to suppress the functioning of 5,000 of the 20,000 one at a time. The said 5,000 genes can also be found in humans.

During the study, the researchers were able to identify the dlk-1 gene and found it to be crucial in the regeneration process.

Every time the scientists blocked the said gene, nerve regeneration also stopped. Study coauthor and biology Professor Erik Jorgensen and the Brain Institute’s scientific director said, "normally, young worms regenerate really well; old worms don’t regenerate at all.

What we can do by overexpressing dlk-1 is make old worms regenerate like young worms." The study is said top provide a new target for developing future drugs that will help stimulate nerve regeneration.

Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/136525.php

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