Brain cells help neighboring nerves regenerate

May 27, 2008

Researchers have uncovered a completely unexpected way that the brain repairs nerve damage, wherein cells known as astrocytes deliver a protective protein to nearby neurons.

Astrocytes are a type of support cell in the brain that serve many functions; one of their roles is to chew up damaged nerves during brain injury and then form scar tissue in the damaged area.

Roger Chung and colleagues have now found that astrocytes have another trick up their sleeve. During injury, astrocytes overproduce a protein called metallothionein (MT) and secrete it to surrounding nerves; MT is a scavenging protein that grabs free radicals and metal ions and prevents them from damaging a cell, and thus is a potent protecting agent.

While the ability of astrocytes to produce MT has been known for decades, the general view was that the MT stayed within astrocytes to protect them while they help repair damaged areas. However, Chung and colleagues demonstrated that MT was present in the external fluid of damaged rat brain. Furthermore, with the aid of a fluorescent MT protein, they observed that MT made in astrocytes could be transported outside the cell and then subsequently taken up by nearby nerves, and that the level of MT uptake correlated with how well the nerves repaired damage.

While the exact physiological role that MT plays in promoting better repair remains to be identified, this unexpected role for this protein should open up new avenues in treating brain injuries in the future.

Article URL: www.jbc.org/cgi/content/full/283/22/15349
The article is appearing in the May 30 Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Source: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Explore further: Supercharging stem cells to create new therapies

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers reveal a genetic blueprint for cartilage

Jul 02, 2015

Cartilage does a lot more than determine the shapes of people's ears and noses. It also enables people to breathe and to form healthy bones—two processes essential to life. In a study published in Cell Re ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.