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Feet first? Old mitochondria might be responsible for neuropathy in the extremities
Date:3/3/2011

The burning, tingling pain of neuropathy may affect feet and hands before other body parts because the powerhouses of nerve cells that supply the extremities age and become dysfunctional as they complete the long journey to these areas, Johns Hopkins scientists suggest in a new study. The finding may eventually lead to new ways to fight neuropathy, a condition that often accompanies other diseases including HIV/AIDS, diabetes and circulatory disorders.

Neuropathies tend to hit the feet first, then travel up the legs. As they reach the knees, they often start affecting the hands. This painful condition tends to affect people who are older or taller more often than younger, shorter people. Though these patterns are typical of almost all cases of neuropathy, scientists have been stumped to explain why, says study leader Ahmet Hoke, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He and his colleagues suspected that the reason might lie within mitochondria, the parts of cells that generate energy. While mitochondria for most cells in the body have a relatively quick turnover replacing themselves every month or so those in nerve cells often live much longer to accommodate the sometimes long journey from where a cell starts growing to where it ends. The nerve cells that supply the feet are about 3 to 4 feet long in a person of average height, Hoke explains. Consequently, the mitochondria in these nerve cells take about two to three years to travel from where the nerve originates near the spine to where it ends in the foot.

To investigate whether the aging process during this travel might affect mitochondria and lead to neuropathy, Hoke and his colleagues examined nerve samples taken during autopsies from 11 people who had HIV-associated neuropathy, 13 who had HIV but no neuropathy, and 11 HIV-negative people who had no signs of neuropathy at their deaths. The researchers took tw
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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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