In a new study, researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University, and the Universit de Montral have discovered an essential mechanism for the maintenance of the normal structure of myelin, the protective covering that insulates and supports nerve cells (neurons). Up until now, very little was known about myelin maintenance. This new information provides vital insight into diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and other progressive demyelinating diseases in which myelin is destroyed, causing irreversible damage and disrupting the nerve cells' ability to transmit messages. The research, published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to identify a role for the protein netrin-1, previously characterized only in the developing nervous system, with this critical function in the adult nervous system. This research was funded by the MS Society of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Netrin-1, a protein deriving its name from the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, word for 'one who guides,' is known to guide and direct nerve cell axons to their targets. In the molecular biological studies conducted by the team, they found that blocking the function of netrin-1 and one of its receptors in adult neural tissue causes the disruption of myelin. "We've known for just over 10 years that netrin is essential for normal development of the nervous system, and we also knew that netrin was present in the adult brain, but we didn't know why. It is fascinating that netrin-1 has such a vital role in maintaining the structure of myelin in the adult nervous system," says Dr. Tim Kennedy, a neuroscientist at the MNI and the senior investigator of this study, "continuing to pursue the implications of that are incredibly exciting." "Our mission is to find a cure as quickly as possible and enhance quality of life," says Karen Lee, assistant vice-president of research programs for the MS Society of Canada. "We
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Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital