Newly discovered brain enzyme could help ward off brain diseases

The researchers published their findings in the journal Neuron.

Linda Mack | Jul 18, 2017

Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University's Vollum Institute have identified in enzyme that plays a major role in the degeneration of axons, the threadlike parts of nerve cells that transmit signals from cell to cell throughout the nervous system. Axon loss takes place in every neurodegenerative disease, so the researchers hope that discovery of this enzyme could be a step toward new treatments or preventives of a wide array of brain diseases.
They dub the enzyme "Axundead"or "Axed"and found that when its function was blocked, injured axons held together and continued to transmit signals to other nerve cells for weeks. The researchers published their findings in the journal Neuron.
"If you target this pathway, you have a really good chance of preserving the functional aspects of neurons after a variety of types of trauma or injury," said senior author Marc Freeman, director of the Vollum Institute. "It's a very attractive therapeutic target."
The Vollum Institute conducts extensive research into how neurons work at the molecular level. Their work includes experiments in axotomy, the severing of axons in order to study neurodegeneration. In the lab, Freeman and colleagues served nerves in fruit flies, whose neural pathways resemble ours. The researchers concluded that blocking Axed stopped damaged axons from further disintegrating.
Axed may play a healthy role of breaking down damaged cells into materials that immune cells can clear away, the researchers suggest. In a nervous system, this clearing-away process can make way for new neurons to grow.
Patients who suffer from nervous diseases or extensive nervous trauma, however, have too much damage for Axed's cell-breakdown function to be helpful. The researchers are looking now for ways to block Axed's function in humans and thereby prevent further breakdown of these patients' nervous systems.

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