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Discovery Could Help Scientists Stop The “Death Cascade” Of Neurons After A Stroke

Posted Jan 25 2009 3:45pm

Discovery could help scientists stop the “death cascade” of neurons after a stroke

Distressed swimmers often panic, sapping the strength they need to keep their heads above water until help arrives. When desperate for oxygen, neurons behave in a similar way. They freak out, stupidly discharging energy until they drown in a sea of their own extruded salts. Every year, millions of victims of stroke or brain trauma suffer permanent brain damage because of this mad rush to oblivion that

Saving neurons. When normal neurons (top) are subjected to stroke-like damage, they quickly deteriorate and die (center). New research shows that a small portion of the cell’s glutamate receptors, the KA1 subunit, is responsible for this damage. Cells treated with an antibody that blocks this subunit are largely protected (bottom).
begins once a part of the brain is deprived of blood.

It is well known that a ubiquitous cell receptor drives these oxygen-starved neurons’ lemming-like behavior. But this particular receptor, for the neurotransmitter glutamate, is also responsible for the rapid transmission of information between neurons required for all cognition, among other things. Shutting it off has serious consequences, like coma. Now, a team of scientists at The Rockefeller University has identified a single subunit of this receptor that drives neuronal death. This new discovery suggests that drugs targeting a specific subunit of the complex glutamate receptor might be able to slow brain damage without disrupting other crucial brain functions.

“We have found that you can make mice resistant to this kind of cell death by blocking one piece of the receptor without the terrible side effects you get by blocking the whole thing,” says Sidney Strickland, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Genetics, who directed the research. “Now we can start exploring potential drugs to do that in humans.”

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