Finding might help rescue brain cells

A UT Southwestern researcher has helped uncover the interactions between an unusual form of nerve growth factor and its death receptor and discovered that interfering with this interface could lead to treatments for neuronal loss disorders after brain injury and in diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The work appears in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently available online.

Neurotrophins regulate the growth, differentiation and survival of certain neurons in the peripheral and central nervous systems through activation of one class of receptor, Trk. The precursor of the neurotrophin nerve growth factor, proNGF, has been suspected of being a death-inducing molecule for neurotrophin receptor p75.

Through mice models, Dr. Klaus Giehl, assistant professor of cell biology and senior author of the study, and his colleagues found that after brain injury, proNGF was both induced and secreted in an active form capable of triggering cell death. They also learned proNGF binds p75 and disrupting the binding results in almost complete rescue of injured adult corticospinal neurons in the cerebral cortex and spinal cord.

Interfering with this binding eventually could result in treatments for disorders involving neuronal loss, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, said Dr. Giehl, whose research for the study was done at the University of Saarland in Homburg, Germany.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the German-Israeli Foundation as well as support from the Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology.


Scott Maier