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New Pathways Studied to Repair Nerves
Date:11/6/2008

said. "We don't know about toxicity, that sort of thing. We have lots of work to do."

A second paper by researchers at the San Francisco-based biotechnology company Genentech looked at the growth-preventing mechanism built into myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds nerve cells. They have identified a previously unknown receptor for the growth-preventing molecules in myelin. Block that receptor, and growth can be restored, said Marc Tessier-Lavigne, executive vice president of research drug discovery at Genentech.

"This is a mechanism we can try to target," Tessier-Lavigne said. The paper describes a molecule that has blocked the receptor in mice. "Now we are working on a human protein."

Both approaches require more work, said Dr. William D. Snider, director of the University of North Carolina Neurosciences Institute, and co-author of an accompanying editorial.

The idea of blocking growth-preventing genes "is a very clever way of restoring normal levels of proteins," Snider said, but he was cautious, because all the work reported in the paper was done in mice.

"Mice are extremely small animals when you compare their nervous systems to humans," Snider said. "Work in primates might be more relevant. Those of us who have been in the field for a while are extremely cautious about extrapolating from mice."

The Genentech myelin approach is not new, Snider noted. "People have known in general that myelin down-regulates nerve cell growth capacity, although they're not certain why that is true," he said. One belief is that the myelin mechanism is designed to prevent errors at times when there is a major change in the central nervous system. Knowledge of a new receptor that governs nerve cell growth could be of practical value, Snider said.

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