A study in The Journal of Cell Biology shows how a transcription factor called STAT3 remains in the axon of nerve cells to help prevent neurodegeneration. The findings could pave the way for future drug therapies to slow nerve damage in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
In Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases, nerve cells usually die in stages, with axons deteriorating first and the cells themselves perishing later. Axon degeneration may represent a turning point for patients, after which so much nerve damage has accumulated that treatments won't work. Researchers have tested several proteins for their ability to save axons. One of these molecules, CNTF, rescues axons in rodents and extends their lives. But it caused severe side effects in patients during clinical trials. "Acting on the same pathway but farther downstream could be an ideal way to improve the situation for motor neuron disease" and possibly for other neurodegenerative diseases, says senior author Michael Sendtner from the University of Wuerzburg in Germany.