Scientists have identified a key signalling pathway that could protect areas of the brain at risk of damage from ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.
The study, published online in Nature Neuroscience this week, reports that activation of NMDA receptors increases the expression of enzymes that protect neurons from damage by molecules called free radicals, which disrupt many normal cellular functions. Because these receptors are activated by events, including strokes, that increase the risk of such damage, this signalling pathway could serve to target the protective response to areas of the brain that need it most.
Giles Hardingham and colleagues report that the same receptor type also increases the effectiveness of cellular defences against free radicals. Activation of NMDA receptors at synapses increases the transcription of several enzymes that detoxify free radicals. Interfering with these enzyme systems made cells more susceptible to damage by free radicals. The authors also showed that some of these enzymes can reverse a chemical reaction that increases neural vulnerability; such reversal was not known to be possible in mammalian cells. Thus, this research may have identified a new potential target for therapies to decrease or reverse damage due to aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
Giles Hardingham (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Abstract available online
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
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