Researchers have identified an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the degeneration of axons, the threadlike portions of a nerve cell that transmit signals within the nervous system.
The discovery could open new pathways to treating or preventing many brain diseases since axon loss occurs in all neurodegenerative diseases.
The research team discovered a new role of the enzyme Axundead — or Axed — in promoting self-destruction of axons.
When Axed function was blocked, injured axons not only maintained their integrity but remained capable of transmitting signals within the brain’s complex circuitry for weeks, according to the findings published 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 at Oregon Health & Science University in the US.
“It’s a very attractive therapeutic target,” said Freeman, who conducted the work during his stint at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“If we can find ways to block it, maybe we can preserve function in a wide array of patients who have lost axons through neurodegenerative diseases or other neural trauma,” Freeman said.