from the of-all-the-nerve dept.
On the hunt for genes involved in regenerating critical nerve fibers called axons, biologists at the University of California San Diego came away with a surprise: The discovery of a new genetic pathway that carries hope for victims of traumatic injuries -- from stroke to spinal cord damage.
UC San Diego Biological Sciences Assistant Project Scientist Kyung Won Kim, Professor Yishi Jin and their colleagues conducted a large-scale genetic screening in the roundworm C. elegans seeking ultimately to understand genetic influences that might limit nerve regrowth in humans. Unexpectedly, the researchers found the PIWI-interacting small RNA (piRNA) pathway -- long believed to be restricted to function in the germline -- plays an active role in neuron damage regeneration.
The discovery is published online Jan. 25, 2018 in the journal Neuron.
"This came as a total surprise," said Jin, Chair of the Section of Neurobiology, Division of Biological Sciences, and a member of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine in UC San Diego's School of Medicine. "piRNA wasn't anywhere on our radar, but now we are convinced that it is a new pathway that functions in neurons and, with some work, could offer therapeutic targets for helping neurons do better against injury."