Possible Means to Prevent or Reverse Nerve Cell Damage Found by Scientists
The researchers behind the new study also reportedly argued that gene therapy could be used to prevent mitochondrial damage.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have gained new insight in their quest to do discover a way to stop nerve cell degeneration that occurs in disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Medical Xpress reports.
As the media outlet explains, previous research of the cause of nerve cell degeneration, which used animal models, suggested that it was a problem with mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, that results in axons – nerve cell projections that transmit information to other neurons and muscles – breaking down.
The team, led by Xue-Jun Li, Michael A. Werckle Professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford, instead used human cells in their study, modifying them to "become nerve cells with the genetic disorder for a particular type of hereditary spastic paraplegia".
The researchers sought to determine how long axons that transmit information between neurons in the brain can break down.
"What we found was that the mitochondria in these cells were breaking apart, what we call mitochondrial fission, and that caused the axons to be shorter and less effective at carrying messages to the brain," Li said. "We then looked at whether a particular agent would change the way the nerve cells function—and it did. It inhibited the mitochondrial fission and let the nerve cells grow normally and also stopped further damage."
The team's findings suggest that the "particular agent" they used, a peptide, can potentially be used to prevent damage to nerve cells or perhaps even to reverse such damage.
19 February, 17:27 GMT
The researchers also argue that gene therapy could be used to prevent mitochondrial damage, "providing another strategy to reverse the nerve damage", as the media outlet puts it.