Scientists Discover Gene That Protects Against Nerve Degeneration

Scientists have identified a gene that protects against spontaneous, adult-onset progressive nerve degeneration.

AsianScientist (Dec. 31, 2013) – Scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have identified a gene that protects against spontaneous, adult-onset progressive nerve degeneration.

Dr. Massimo Hilliard, who led the study, said that the discovery of gene mec-17 causing axon (nerve fiber) degeneration could open the door to better understand the mechanisms of neuronal injury and neurodegenerative diseases characterized by axonal pathology, such as motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

“This is an important step to fully understand how axonal degeneration occurs, and thus facilitates development of therapies to prevent or halt this damaging biological event,” said Hilliard.

In the study, the team found that mec-17 protects the neuron by stabilizing its cytoskeletal structure, allowing proper transport of essential molecules and organelles, including mitochondria, throughout the axon.

Findings of the research have been published in journal Cell Reports, and first author Dr. Brent Neumann anticipates that the research into the gene will soon lead to further discoveries.

“This study demonstrates that mec-17 normally functions to protect the nervous system from damage,” said Neumann. “This knowledge can now be used to understand precisely how the gene achieves this and to discover other molecules that are used by the nervous system for similar protective functions.”

“We can now start to look into means of bypassing the function of mec-17, such as activating other genes or alternative mechanisms that can protect the nervous system from damage.”

The article can be found at: Neumann B et al. (2013) Loss of MEC-17 Leads to Microtubule Instability and Axonal Degeneration.


Source: University of Queensland; Photo: Fimb/Flickr/CC.
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