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Ability of brain to protect itself from damage revealed
Date:2/24/2013

by going back to an observation first made over 85 years ago. It has been known since 1926 that neurons in one area of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, are able to survive being starved of oxygen, while others in a different area of the hippocampus die. But what protected that one set of cells from damage had remained a puzzle until now.

'Previous studies have focused on understanding how cells die after being depleted of oxygen and glucose. We considered a more direct approach by investigating the endogenous mechanisms that have evolved to make these cells in the hippocampus resistant,' explains first author Dr Michalis Papadakis, Scientific Director of the Laboratory of Cerebral Ischaemia at Oxford University.

Working in rats, the researchers found that production of a specific protein called hamartin allowed the cells to survive being starved of oxygen and glucose, as would happen after a stroke.

They showed that the neurons die in the other part of the hippocampus because of a lack of the hamartin response.

The team was then able to show that stimulating production of hamartin offered greater protection for the neurons.

Professor Buchan says: 'This is causally related to cell survival. If we block hamartin, the neurons die when blood flow is stopped. If we put hamartin back, the cells survive once more.'

Finally, the researchers were able to identify the biological pathway through which hamartin acts to enable the nerve cells to cope with damage when starved of energy and oxygen.

The group points out that knowing the natural biological mechanism that leads to neuroprotection opens up the possibility of developing drugs that mimic hamartin's effect.

Professor Buchan says: 'There is a great deal of work ahead if this is to be translated into the clinic, but we now have a neuroprotective strategy for the first time. Our next steps will be to see if we can find
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Contact: University of Oxford press office
press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk
44-186-528-0530
University of Oxford
Source:Eurekalert

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