Scientists Uncover Potential Nerve Repair Mechanism
By Doug Boyd
Treatment for people with nerve damage may be possible following a discovery by East Carolina University scientists that a key molecular mechanism plays a role in the regeneration and repair of periphery nerves damaged by disease or injury.
Dr. Alexander Murashov, an associate professor of physiology at ECU, led the team that studied whether the molecular process, RNA interference, or RNAi, might be a natural mechanism for regulating protein synthesis in axons, or nerve fibers. Using laboratory mice, Murashov’s group studied sciatic nerves and primary neuronal cultures.
RNAi regulates the creation of proteins in the body. Until now, no direct evidence existed that RNAi controls local protein synthesis in axons, which act as “pavement” for the nervous system’s “information superhighway.”
In addition, the mechanism involved in nerve fiber creation did not depend on communication with or transport from the nerve cell body, its nucleus or surrounding support cells. Axonal nerve fibers can be as long as 3 feet, and this independence makes RNAi a promising drug target.
A drug could be made to activate the expression of neuron-specific genes responsible for axonal growth, Murashov said.
The ECU research project began in 2003. It builds on the 2006 Nobel Prize-winning research of Andrew Z. Fire of Stanford University and Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts.
For their next step, Murashov and his team are working with Dr. Scott Hammond at the University of North Carolina to identify natural microRNAs involved in regulating peripheral nerve regeneration.
“We have some very promising preliminary data,” Murashov said.
Murashov’s study is in this month’s journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Other researchers collaborating on the research were Dr. Vishnu Chintalgattu, Elena Pak, Dr. Laxmansa C. Katwa and Dr. Michael R. Van Scott of the ECU Department of Physiology; Dr. Rustem R. Islamov, formerly of ECU and now at Kazan Medical University in Russia; Teresa E. Lever, a doctoral student in communication sciences and disorders at ECU; and Paulina L. Sierpinski, a doctoral student at Wake Forest University.