Scientists at Children's National Medical Center have identified a fundamental protein that is instrumental in the development and repair of the brain.
The signalling activity of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) protein is significant for myelination and remyelination, the processes essential to the creation and repair of the brain's white matter.
The groundbreaking discovery in mouse models may lead to inventions for the enhancement of healthy brain development, and improvement in treatments for brain disorders in both children and adults.
"By understanding the fundamental mechanisms of brain development, we get closer to finding clear instructions to repairing developmental brain disorders and injuries," Dr. Vittorio Gallo, Director, Center for Neuroscience Research, Children's Research Institute at Children's National Medical Center, was quoted by Nature as saying.
"Our breakthrough at the level of laboratory research will soon translate to the bedsides where they care for newborns," he added.
When white matter is injured or defective, the essential functions of information relay are impaired, according to the background information in a paper, to be published in the August issue of Nature Neuroscience. The paper further links underdeveloped white matter or white matter injuries to conditions including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.
"If we can marry whole body cooling with new approaches that boost the activity of this essential protein, we may be able to slow down injury and enhance myelination," said Dr. Gallo.
"Some day we may be able to repair brain damage and subsequent affects such as mental retardation, developmental disabilities or other disorders that result from incomplete myelination or white matter damage," he added.
During the study, the researchers found that when enhanced EGFR protein was inserted in mice, they showed enhanced myelination/remyelination. Whereas, upon using an EGFR protein with reduced biological activity they observed a decrease in these processes.
Dr. Gallo noted that the signalling of the EGFR protein was instrumental in the proliferation and migration of progenitor cells, which are integral to white matter development and repair.