THURSDAY, Aug. 15, 2002
Scientists at the Burnham Institute in California have uncovered new information about nerve cell death in people with stroke and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
Their report in this week's issue of the journal Science outlines a new enzyme pathway to nerve cell death. It involves an ephemeral gas called nitric oxide, which is found in the body and is also an air pollutant.
Nitric oxide can activate enzymes on the outside of nerve cells that leads to the death of the nerve cells during stroke and diseases such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS dementia and Alzheimer's.
The enzymes activated by the nitric oxide belong to a group called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). When these enzymes are activated in excess, they chew up the outside of the nerve cells and kill them, the report says.
"The new work uncovers the mechanism of activation of an enzymatic pathway that leads to nerve cell death," says research team head Dr. Stuart A. Lipton, a neurologist and director of the Center for Neuroscience and Aging at the Burnham Institute.
This is the first study to clearly identify this kind of enzyme pathway outside, rather than inside, the nerve cells. It's the first time that scientists have identified the ability of nitric oxide to activate MMPs.
"Now that we know about this new pathway to nerve cell death that occurs outside of the cells, we can design drugs to interrupt it, and this is where this work will go in the future," Lipton says.
out about nitric oxide's other roles in the body.
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