Nerve Repair Findings Published

by Mark Benson on June 18, 2012

Peripheral Nerve System Degradation

The researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry from the University of Exeter working with other researchers from Rutgers University in Newark and the University College London have expanded the understanding of the mechanism where cells are able to insulate nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system or the Schwann cells. These cells protect and repair damage caused by diseases and other trauma.

These findings was published in the online edition of the Journal of Neuroscience and funded by the Wellcome Trust. It said that these conditions point to future therapies in the repair and improvement of damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system is that part of the nerve system found outside the brain and the spinal cord. This system regulates every aspect of the body’s functions, carrying sensory information allowing us to feel the sun on our face and motor information. The system also controls the proper functioning of the body’s internal organs.

Damage often occurs because of trauma as well as diabetic neuropathy, the latter being suffered by almost half of all individuals suffering from the metabolic condition. Other patients show issues because of inherited conditions like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. These exhibit themselves as symptoms such as loss of sensation in the hands and feet, issues with digestion, issues with blood pressure regulation, sexual dysfunction and bladder control issues.

For its part, the Schwann cells provide the insulation, called the myelin sheath for the nerve cells that would carry the electrical impulses to and from the spinal cord. The Schwann cells are elastic and have the ability to revert to an immature “repair” cell in order to repair the damage to the peripheral nervous system, called demyelination. While the repair is good, it is not complete and when the nerve is severed or too badly damaged, the end result would be loss of function and pain in the long run.

Thus, the ability of Schwann cells to demyelinate makes the individual prone to conditions such as CMT and the frequency is one in every 2500 individuals. This rate is comparatively similar to common inherited diseases in the nervous system. Mutations in the different genes in CMT causes cycles of repair and reinsulation, called re-myelination, eventually resulting in damage and death of the Schwann and the nerve cells it protects. CMT still has no known therapeutic cure and individuals suffering from it experience nerve problems that eventually lead to disability.

The full research team determined that it is important to understand the ability of Schwann cells to repair itself by going through an immature state and stimulate repair leading to therapies to improve damage from severe trauma to break the pernicious cycle resulting from CMT. It is also envisioned that this may be able to repair what diabetes neuropathy damages.

The study focused on cJun, the DNA binding protein that plays a key role in the plasticity of the Schwann cell to revert from active repair to immature recovery state. This protein also is activated by a number of pathways that convey signals from the surface of the Schwann cell to the nucleus. The p38 Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase Pathway is the pathway that activates after PNS damage occurs and at the same time promotes repair of the cell. On the other hand, when activated improperly, the demyelination occurs and develops into diseases such as CMT.

According to David Parkinson, Associate Professor in Neuroscience of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry of the University of Exeter, “The findings of our research are exciting because we have pinpointed and understanding the mechanism by which our bodies can repair to the peripheral nervous system. With further investigation, this could well lead to therapies to repair nerve damage from trauma and mitigate the damage which relates to common illnesses, such as CMT.”

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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