RESEARCHERS have learnt how a particular protein enables damaged nerves to repair themselves in a study using mouse models. The findings of this research could lead to the development of new treatments for injured peripheral nerves. Damage to these nerves can occur, for example, as the result of traumatic injuries or diabetes.
In their study, researchers from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Plymouth, UK, found that a protein called Merlin played an important role in the process by which nerves were able to repair themselves. The Merlin protein is also known to be involved in suppressing the growth of nerve tumours. It is found in Schwann cells, which surround axons of motor and sensory neurons, helping nerves to transmit information to and from the peripheral nervous system. Schwann cells are able to support regeneration in injured nerves and the researchers found that the Merlin protein was vital to this process.
The team found that Schwann cells were unable to repair damaged nerves in mice that had been genetically altered to remove Merlin. Further experiments suggested that the failure of nerves to repair themselves was mediated by the activation of Yes-associated protein (YAP) expression when Merlin was absent. Prof David Parkinson, Plymouth University, lead author of the study, commented: “Peripheral nerve damage has limited treatment options and has a detrimental effect on the lives of those who have sustained it. We are very excited by our findings because they identify, for the first time, the mechanisms by which nerve damage repair happens. By understanding the mechanism we can develop effective therapies to produce nerve repair in situations where that might not have been an option before.”
The research has received funding from the Medical Research Council. Dr Jacqui Oakley, MRC Programme Manager for Neuronal Function, said: “This research has uncovered another vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle in discovering how nerves regenerate, with potential impact in the future for trauma and diabetes patients and even elderly people whose nerves have lost the ability to repair themselves.”
Jack Redden, Reporter