Understanding how diseases alter processes in your body and what effects they have on your overall health is critical to finding effective treatment options. For instance, there is a clear connection between the condition of your neural axons and the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Furthering our comprehension regarding the nature of these connections can help shed light upon how we can potentially treat disease conditions or prevent them from progressing.
Neural Axons and Neurodegenerative Diseases
The term axon describes a particular section of the nerve cell that extends out in long, thin tendrils. The purpose of axons is to help transmit information to other neurons within the brain and throughout the body by conducting electrical impulses. This communication is essential for your brain and body to operate properly.
Unfortunately, when neural axons sustain considerable damage, they become incapable of transmitting information. The more extensive the damage, the more difficult it is for a person to perform basic activities like communicating. During the course of a neurodegenerative disease, the ongoing damage to neural axons can progress to the point of inhibiting bodily functions required for survival and can result in death.
Protecting Neural Axons
Finding ways to protect neural axons from damage and degeneration is vital to combatting neurodegenerative diseases. Unfortunately, most current solutions have undesirable side effects. Inhibition of an enzyme known as dual leucine zipper kinase successfully protects neurons from the damages of neurodegenerative disease. However, the suppression of this enzyme also prevents axons from regenerating. As a result, any axons that do sustain injury have a limited ability to regenerate and heal. The lack of dual leucine zipper kinase prevents them from sustaining damage but also makes them unable to repair themselves.
Research also shows that it is possible to stimulate axonal regeneration, but at the cost of decreasing the chances of survival for neurons. As you can see, both options fail to address the issue properly. Fortunately, there is a new study that offers a better solution.
In 2020, a group of researchers from the Shiley Eye Institute (University of California) working in tandem with researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine published their findings about an intriguing group of enzymes. These enzymes are categorized as germinal cell kinase IV kinases. When inhibited, they are successful at protecting neurons while having no negative impacts on axonal regeneration.
Researchers set out to discover a way to protect neurons found in the retina, which, when damaged, contributes to the development of glaucoma. Researchers utilized high throughput screening techniques, which allowed them to identify which compounds were most effective at extending the life of these retinal ganglion cells. High throughput screening empowers researchers to test various compounds at once, allowing them to drive new advancements and complete research more quickly. As a result of this study, researchers found that inhibition of germinal cell kinase appears to prevent damage to retinal ganglion cells.
Hope for the Future
These studies could revolutionize the way we treat neurodegenerative diseases. With the help of advanced techniques like high throughput screening and the dedication of researchers, there is hope for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.