Researchers find gene network that repairs nervous system

In addition to finding the genetic mechanism responsible for repairing the peripheral nervous system, researchers found a drug that may aid in repair of the central nervous system.
By Stephen Feller   |   Feb. 19, 2016 at 4:45 PM

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Researchers identified the genetic mechanism that promotes repair of the peripheral nervous system, as well as a drug that promotes nerve regeneration in the central nervous system, according to a newly published study.

Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles gained the new understanding of the nervous system by mapping the action of messenger RNA, or mRNA, in the nervous system, and they think the finding could lead to better methods of treating injuries.

Nerve cells transmit and receive electrical messages to cells and tissue in organ systems. While some nerve cells recover after being damaged in an injury, such as those in the peripheral nervous system, other generally cannot recover at all, such as those in the central nervous system.

Having discovered how mRNA helps certain nerves repair themselves, as well as the effects of the drug Ambroxol on the central nervous system, the UCLA researchers see better injury treatment down the road.

"We did not find these patterns in the central nervous system," Dr. Dan Geschwind, a professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at UCLA, said in a press release. "That was the major advance -- identifying, in an unbiased way, the entire network of pathways turned on in the peripheral nervous system when it regenerates, key aspects of which are missing in the central nervous system."

For the study, published in the journal Neuron, the researchers measured the response of mRNA gene regulation after injuries to mice, and developed algorithms to look at the order in which genes were expressed and how they interacted. The advance of the study, researchers said, was confirming this action in the peripheral nervous system, but not the central nervous system.

To confirm the gene-level findings, the researchers sought a drug that could mimic the genetic expression, finding Ambroxol had reparative effects on the central nervous system.

"Understanding these molecular differences in injured nerve cells in the limbs, where regeneration happens, versus injured nerve cells in the spinal cord, where regeneration fails, would open up the possibility to design treatment to enhance neuron regeneration in the central nervous system after injury," said Vijayendran Chandran, a researcher in the department of neurology at UCLA.

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