Nerve signal discovery backs Nobel winner's theory

Scientists have proved a 60-year-old theory about how nerve signals are sent around the body at varying speeds as electrical impulses.

Researchers tested how these signals are transmitted through , which enables us to move and recognise sensations such as touch and smell.

The findings from the University of Edinburgh have validated an idea first proposed by Sir Andrew Huxley.

It has been known for many years that an insulating layer – known as myelin – which surrounds nerve fibres is crucial in determining how quickly these signals are sent.

This insulating myelin is interrupted at regular intervals along the nerve by gaps called nodes.

Scientists, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, have now proved that the longer the distance between nodes, the quicker the nerve fibres send signals down the nerves.

The theory that the distance between these gaps might affect the speed of electrical signals was first proposed by Sir Andrew Huxley, who won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for his work on electrical signalling in the nervous system, and who died earlier this year.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, will help provide insight into what happens in people with . It will also shed light on how nerves develop before and after birth.

Professor Peter Brophy, Director of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Neuroregeneration, said: "The study gives us greater insight into how the central and peripheral nervous systems work and what happens after nerves become injured. We know that have the capacity to repair, but shorter lengths of insulation around the nerve fibres after repair affect the speed with which impulses are sent around the body."

The researchers found that when the myelin reached a certain length, the speed with which nerves impulses were conducted reached a peak.

The study, carried out in mice, also confirmed that a protein – periaxin – plays a key role in regulating the length of myelin layers around nerve fibres.

Related Stories

Researchers discover gene crucial for nerve cell insulation

Apr 16, 2007

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have discovered how a defect in a single master gene disrupts the process by which several genes interact to create myelin, a fatty coating that covers nerve cells and ...

New imaging technique evaluates nerve damage

Sep 13, 2011

A new imaging technique could help doctors and researchers more accurately assess the extent of nerve damage and healing in a live patient. Researchers at Laval University in Québec and Harvard Medical School in Boston ...

Signals from stroking have direct route to brain

Apr 14, 2009

Nerve signals that tell the brain that we are being slowly stroked on the skin have their own specialised nerve fibres in the skin. This is shown by a new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. ...

Recommended for you

Gamers helping in Ebola research

4 hours ago

Months before the recent Ebola outbreak erupted in Western Africa, killing more than a thousand people, scientists at the University of Washington's Institute for Protein Design were looking for a way to stop the deadly virus.

Carcinogenic role of a protein in liver decoded

7 hours ago

The human protein EGFR controls cell growth. It has mutated in case of many cancer cells or exists in excessive numbers. For this reason it serves as a point of attack for target-oriented therapies. A study ...

A new way to diagnose malaria, using magnetic fields

Aug 31, 2014

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jonnyboy
1 / 5 (3) Oct 11, 2012
really?