A second part of the research looked at the chemical pathways through which proteins may enhance neuron growth. Previous work had found two neuron receptors, the gateways through which neurons interact with the outside world, that play a role in how external proteins trigger cell growth. However, when Kim blocked these two receptors, known as integrin and HSPG, he found that apoE4 still enhanced neuron growth. That finding suggests that neurons use an as yet unknown pathway to interact with apoE4.
"This discovery opens up a new target for researchers who are interested in identifying receptors that are important for spurring neural growth," Palmore said.
Application to neural prosthetics
Unlike other cells in the body, nerve cells tend not to regenerate after being damaged by disease or trauma. So researchers hope that they can eventually implant lab-grown cells in the body to treat trauma or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
"People are looking at all these different proteins to see if we can make a material a scaffold that to a neuron, looks and feels like their natural environment," said Palmore. "The finding that apoE4 is a better protein to add to neural scaffolds is a good breakthrough because most people have been using laminin for the central nervous system models, which turns out to be less than optimal."
|Contact: Kevin Stacey|