A study by the Weizmann Institute in New York has uncovered part of the process that could lead to the regeneration of peripheral nerves.
Peripheral nerves are nerves aside from the brain and spinal cord. They are capable of regenerating, but do so poorly and scientists hope that if the process was better understood, nerve regeneration could occur where it has been irreversible.
Nerve cells have a cell body containing the nucleus and a long ‘arm,’ called an axon, that can extend up to 1 yard. The axons are the main conduit for nerve communication conveying electric signals to muscles or other cells, but their length make them vulnerable to damage.
A study, published in Neuron, showed that a special protein — called importin beta — is produced at the site of nerve damage in the axon. It normally resides near the nucleus of nerve cells and facilitates the entry of molecules into the nucleus along with its ‘sister’ molecule, importin alpha.
Dr. Michael Fainzilber found importin beta was produced in the axons upon injury, binds it to importin alpha and to proteins containing the ‘healing message.’ “