People have them, cats have them and whales have some, too. Neurons, those interlinked nerve cells that carry sensations including pain, stretch from our spinal cords to the tips of our toes, paws or fins. According to a new study published in the journal Cell, scientists from the Harvard Medical School, the University of Montreal and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found a new way by which nerve cells relay information that tell them to grow from millimeters to meters in length.
In other words, the researchers found a new signaling pathway that charters the course for cell progression to allow their growth. The team made an intriguing connection between nerve cells and a receptor called DCC (Deleted in Colorectal Carcinoma). The discovery means cells perform functions in unimagined ways -- challenging previous views on how cells respond to their environment -- that could prove beneficial in cell growth following nerve damage or detrimental in diseases such as cancer.
"We found an alternate way that helps nerve cells respond quickly and locally," says co-author Philippe P. Roux, a professor of pathology and cell biology and a researcher at the University of Montreal Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC). "This is just the beginning, since our findings suggest that more cellular receptors may function in the same way."
Dr. Roux, who is also Canada Research Chair in Signal Transduction and Proteomics, says the study could potentially open new treatment avenues: "We can envisage manipulating this alternate mechanism to make cells respond locally to their environment. Our findings mean that scientists must consider a new way that cells organize themselves to perform essential functions."
This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Human Frontier Science Program Organization.
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