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Scientists discover a new way to enhance nerve growth following injury
Date:4/22/2014

New research published today out of the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) uncovers a mechanism to promote growth in damaged nerve cells as a means to restore connections after injury. Dr. Doug Zochodne and his team have discovered a key molecule that directly regulates nerve cell growth in the damaged nervous system. His study was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, with lead authors Drs. Kim Christie and Anand Krishnan.

"We made the surprising discovery that a protein called Retinoblastoma (Rb) is present in adult neurons," explains Zochodne. "This protein appears to normally act as a brake preventing nerve growth. What we have shown is that by inactivating Rb, we can release the brake and coax nerves to grow much faster," says Zochodne, a professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

Zochodne and his team decided to look for Rb in nerve cells because of its known role in regulating cell growth elsewhere in the body.

"We know that cancer is characterized by excessive cell growth and we also know that Rb is often functioning abnormally in cancer," says Zochodne. "So if cancer is able to release this brake and increase cell growth, we thought we'd try to mimic this same action in nerve cells and encourage growth where we want it."

The researchers were able to shut down Rb for a short amount of time and did not observe any negative results, leading them to feel optimistic that this could one day be used as a safe treatment for patients suffering from nerve damage.

So far, Zochodne is only investigating this technique in the peripheral nervous system. Peripheral nerves connect the brain and spinal cord to the body and without them, there is no movement or sensation. Peripheral nerve damage can be incredibly debilitating, with patients experiencing symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness or difficulty coordinating hands, feet, arms or legs.

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Contact: Marta Cyperling
mcyperli@ucalgary.ca
403-210-3835
University of Calgary
Source:Eurekalert

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