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Date:8/24/2011

"Currently, we have no solution for these devastating diseases," Morimoto said. "This master neuronal switch could offer a new target for therapy. If we can restore the natural ability of cells to prevent protein damage, our cells should be healthier longer and the quality of life will be better."

The findings are also applicable to other diseases that involve protein misfolding, such as cancer and metabolic diseases, Morimoto said.

Morimoto and Prahlad studied C. elegans, specifically models with different forms of protein misfolding diseases. The transparent roundworm is a valued research tool as its biochemical environment is similar to that of human beings and its genome, or complete genetic sequence, is known.

They interfered with the nervous system signal, the "master switch," to see what would happen to the animals. When the signal was working, the animals accumulated damaged proteins in their cells that interfered with cellular function. But when the researchers reduced the neuronal signal a little bit, the normal cellular response to protein damage returned and the animals were healthy.

While the downregulation of the neuronal signal in the study was done genetically, in humans the idea would be to alter the signal chemically, Morimoto said.

"This work gives us an appreciation that animals are not just a bundle of cells, each on its own to sense and respond to damage," he said. "The cells are organized into tissues, tied into a network that is organized by the brain. The brain can tell the cells to turn on a stress response or not. The nervous system is talking to all the parts to orchestrate an organismal response to stress. That's what's so fascinating."


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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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