A new protein that defends the brain against the effects of stroke in mice and can lead to a possible new strategy for treating neurologic disorders in humans has been identified by Johns Hopkins scientists.
They said that the "survival protein" protects the brain against the effects of stroke in rodent brain tissue by interfering with a particular kind of cell death that's also implicated in complications from diabetes and heart attack.
The team said it exploited the fact that when brain tissue is subjected to a stressful but not lethal insult a defense response occurs that protects cells from subsequent insult.
They dissected this preconditioning pathway to identify the most critical molecular players, of which a newly identified protein protector - called Iduna-is one.
Named for a mythological Norwegian goddess who guards a tree full of golden apples used to restore health to sick and injured gods, the Iduna protein increased three- to four-fold in preconditioned mouse brain tissue, according to the scientists.
"Apparently, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said Valina Dawson, professor of neurology and neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins Institute of Cell Engineering.
"This protective response was broad in its defense of neurons and glia and blood vessels - the entire brain. It's not just a delay of death, but real protection that lasts for about 72 hours," he said.
The team noted that Iduna works by interrupting a cascade of molecular events that result in a common and widespread type of brain cell death called parthanatos often found in cases of stroke, Parkinson's Disease, diabetes and heart attack.
"Identifying protective molecules such as Iduna might someday lead to drugs that trigger the brain survival mechanism when people have a stroke or Parkinson's disease," said Ted Dawson, scientific director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering.
The finding was reported in the May 22 advance online edition of Nature Medicine.