CHAPEL HILL, N.C. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have discovered a molecule that can make brain cells resistant to programmed cell death or apoptosis.
This molecule, a tiny strand of nucleotides called microRNA-29 or miR-29, has already been shown to be in short supply in certain neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the discovery could herald a new treatment to prompt brain cells to survive in the wake of neurodegeneration or acute injury like stroke.
"There is the real possibility that this molecule could be used to block the cascade of events known as apoptosis that eventually causes brain cells to break down and die," said senior study author Mohanish Deshmukh, PhD, associate professor of cell and developmental biology.
The study, published online Jan. 18, 2011, in the journal Genes & Development, is the first to find a mammalian microRNA capable of stopping neuronal apoptosis.
Remarkably, a large number of the neurons we are born with end up dying during the normal development of our bodies. Our nerve cells must span great distances to ultimately innervate our limbs, muscles and vital organs. Because not all nerve cells manage to reach their target tissues, the body overcompensates by sending out twice as many neurons as required. The first ones to reach their target get the prize, a cocktail of factors needed for them to survive, while the ones left behind die off. Once that brutal developmental phase is over, the remaining neurons become impervious to apoptosis and live long term.
But exactly what happens to suddenly keep these cells from dying has been a mystery. Deshmukh thought the key might lie in microRNAs, tiny but powerful molecules that silence the activity of as many as two-thirds of all human genes. Though microRNAs have been a hotbed of research in recent years, there have been relatively few studies show
|Contact: Les Lang|
University of North Carolina School of Medicine