Age no obstacle to nerve cell regeneration, researchers find

by Bill Hathaway
Age no obstacle to nerve cell regeneration
Credit: Shutterstock

In aging worms at least, it is insulin, not Father Time, that inhibits a motor neuron's ability to repair itself—a finding that suggests declines in nervous system health may not be inevitable.

All organisms show a declining ability to regenerate damaged nervous systems with age, but the study appearing in the Feb. 5 issue of the journal Neuron suggests this deficit is not due to the ravages of time.

"The nervous system regulates its own response to age, separately from what happens in the rest of the body," said Marc Hammarlund, assistant professor of genetics and senior author of the new study. "By manipulating the insulin pathway, we can make animals that live longer but have nervous systems that age normally, or conversely, we can make animals that die at a normal age but have a young system."

Alexandra Byrne, postdoctoral associate in genetics and lead author of the study, identified two that regulate insulin activity and are responsible for age-related declines in a worm's ability to regenerate neuronal axons, or connective branches. The team pinpointed two other pathways that also regulate a neuron's ability to regenerate, but that have no connection to the age of the worm.

The worm C. elegans is a well-established model to study the genetics of aging, and manipulation of the family of genes that regulate activity has been shown to dramatically increase lifespan of the organism. The new study reveals that is also directly affecting the .

"We hope to understand how different pathways coordinately regulate neuronal aging, and more specifically, how to entice an aged neuron to regenerate after injury," Byrne said.

"The hope is to increase healthspan, not just lifespan," Hammarlund said.

Other Yale authors of the study are Trent Walradt, Kathryn E. Gardner, Austin Hubbert, and Valerie Reinke. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Ellison Medical Foundation.

Related Stories

A new pathway for neuron repair is discovered

Jan 09, 2014

Penn State University molecular biologists have discovered a brand-new pathway for repairing nerve cells that could have implications for faster and improved healing. The researchers describe their findings ...

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments