Mar. 19, 2001 Washington, DC -- Scientists have found that a small, naturally-occurring molecule that enters the brain easily keeps nerve cells alive by stimulating the actions of growth factors. This points the way for the potential use in the future of small molecules to approach a number of disorders, which may include Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We have discovered that a small molecule called adenosine can mimic the effects of nerve growth factor and brain-derived growth factor to prevent cell death in the nervous system,” says Moses Chao, PhD, a neurobiologist at New York University. Such growth factors serve as survival agents for nerve cells, keeping them alive. Chao’s study, funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health, appears in the March 13 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This is important because although there are many potential uses for growth factors for treatment of diseases, they are difficult to deliver. In contrast, small molecules such as adenosine are easy to deliver,” says Lloyd Greene, PhD, a neuroscientist and professor of pathology at Columbia University.
Using rat nerve cells isolated from the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory, and grown in the laboratory, Chao found that adenosine was able to communicate with receptors for brain-derived growth factor. This resulted in the production of the signals that prevented neurons from dying.
These results suggest that there may be other small molecules that work like adenosine. The next steps are to test adenosine compounds in animal models of human diseases.
Chao’s co-author is Francis Lee, MD, PhD, of Cornell University Medical College. Chao is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, an organization 28,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.
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