According to the researchers, there are four pathways of NAD synthesis, and the scientists focused on just one. They wanted to find out whether this particular pathway a longtime focus of Imai's lab is important for these cells or if the other routes could compensate.
The pathway begins with the B vitamin nicotinamide. Cells take dietary nicotinamide and, with a helper protein called Nampt, manufacture a molecule called NMN, which then is processed further to make NAD. When Stein eliminated Nampt from neural stem cells, several significant changes took place.
Levels of NAD dropped, and the neural stem cells stopped dividing; they stopped renewing themselves; and they stopped being able to create important cells that insulate axons, the "wires" that carry electrical signals throughout the brain. With less insulation, these signals slow down, impairing brain function.
Imai and Stein pointed out possible therapeutic implications of this finding, especially in light of what is known about cognitive decline in aging and certain diseases.
"Scientists have shown that with age there actually isn't a large decrease in the total neuron population," Stein said. "But there is quite a substantial decrease in white matter, which is primarily composed of cells that function in axon insulation. This pathway also could be relevant in conditions involving loss of cells that make this insulation, like multiple sclerosis."
Imai and Stein also found they could prevent the loss of the neural stem cells missing Nampt by giving the mice NMN, the next molecule in the chain of events leading to NAD.
"We gave the mice NMN in their drinking water for
|Contact: Julia Evangelou Strait|
Washington University School of Medicine