The new drugs target a protein known as "b-Site amyloid precursor protein cleaving enzyme 1" or BACE 1. Neurology Professor Mohamed Farah, PhD., and Neurology Professor John Griffin, M.D., tried blocking the action of BACE 1 to analyze the effects on injured axon projections. They started their experiments with mice whose ability to make BACE 1 had been genetically removed. After the animals' sciatic nerves were cut or crushed, the scientists watched what happened as the axons regenerated. Compared to normal mice that had the ability to make BACE 1, the animals lacking the protein cleaned up the debris around the injury site faster. Because the debris can inhibit regeneration, the scientists expected that the axons would regrow faster. As expected, the cut ends of the animals' nerve cells generated more new sprouts that grew into extensions that reached the targets of muscles or nerve cells days faster than mice that made BACE 1.
In hopes that compounds able to block BACE 1 activity would have a similar effect, the team worked with two experimental drugs already developed to target Alzheimer's disease. The mice were given either of the two drugs systematically after nerve injuries and had similar increases in re-growth, though slightly less pronounced. This was because the drugs dampen the effect of BACE 1, instead of completely removing it.
The researchers stated their proof of the work was reason to celebrate because "anything that speeds up nerve re-growth could be enormously helpful to people with nerve injuries caused by a range of injuries and diseases." "After an injury, the environment around nerves and their target tissues sometimes degenerates before nerves can heal, which kills the chances that the nerve will re-grow. If we can help nerves re-grow faster, we increase the chances that they can reach their target and become healthy again after an injury." The researchers now plan to test the compounds in other animal models of nerve injury such as neuropathies and spinal cord injuries.
This is a step in the right direction to help those with nerve injuries. Helping patients recover more quickly and with less damage to nerves is a big step in the treatment of spinal cord and nerve injuries.
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