Wednesday July 7 5:50 PM ET
NEW YORK, Jul 07 (Reuters Health) -- When a molecular factor normally found in the nervous system is damaged or missing, nerve cells in the brain and body begin to degenerate, according to a new study in mice. The finding may illuminate what goes wrong in nerve-damaging diseases like multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barr syndrome, a paralysis- inducing condition that occurs most often after a viral infection, according to senior investigator, Dr. Ronald A. Schnaar, professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Schnaar and his colleagues genetically altered mice so they produced a variation of complex gangliosides, molecules found in abundance in the nervous system but whose function is not entirely clear.
The mutant mice produced simpler-than-normal gangliosides, but also experienced severe nerve cell degeneration in the brain, spinal cord and elsewhere in the body.
The finding suggests that complex gangliosides are crucial for maintaining the integrity of nerve cells, according to the team's report, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Complex gangliosides bind to myelin-associated glycoproteins (MAG's), other molecules thought to play a role in maintaining nerve cell function.
Because MAGs can promote the growth of myelin, the findings suggest
that developing agents to block the activity of the MAGs and complex gangliosides
may promote nerve cell regrowth -- though much more study is needed to
determine if this is true, the team concludes.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 1999;96:7532-7537.