In a novel study, researchers have identified a protein, called c-Jun, which plays an important role in the regeneration of damage in the peripheral nervous system.
Also, c-Jun, a transcription factor that regulates the expression of other genes, may better explain diseases of our peripheral nervous systems and provide clues to methods of repairing damage in the central nervous system as well.
Researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in the South West of England, University College London, the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan and Cancer Research UK found that the c-Jun protein plays a vital role in regulating the plasticity of Schwann cells which is important for the regeneration and repair of the peripheral nervous system after injury.
The function of Schwann cells is to produce the sheaths that surround and insulate neurons. At the time of damage to the peripheral nervous system, Schwann cells unwrap themselves from the degenerating axon. During this process of repair, Schwann cells then provide the correct environment for the neurons to re-grow and complete the process of repair.
With the identification of this transcription factor, it is believed that in future they could produce eventual cures for damage and diseases of the peripheral nervous system, such as the inherited condition Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre disease.
As central nervous system does not regenerate like peripheral nervous system when damaged, researchers hope to work towards identifying ways in which Schwann cells and c-Jun could be used to repair the spinal cord, leading to possible cures for those who are suffering from damage of the central nervous system.
Also, they can work towards identifying if abnormal activation of the c-Jun protein may be involved in causing Schwann cell tumours, for example in the condition of neurofibromatosis type 2, leading to a better understanding of this condition and the development of therapies for this condition.
"This is a very exciting first step towards understanding how the peripheral nervous system repairs itself, how that process could be used to produce cures for diseases of and damage to the peripheral nervous system, and how it could ultimately encourage the central nervous system to behave like the peripheral nervous system and repair itself," said Dr. David Parkinson from the Peninsula Medical School, who was lead researcher on the paper.
He added: "We knew that Schwann cells, unlike other cells in the body, are constantly able to rejuvenate themselves. We now have a better understanding of how this happens, and that understanding could be used to create treatments and therapies for a wide range of degenerative diseases."
The study is published in the Journal of Cell Biology.