Researchers from Oxford University in the UK have, for the first time, explained why some brain cells seem to have the ability to protect themselves. It offers hope to stroke victims as well as to people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
As early as 85 years ago it was noticed that some cells in an area of the brain called the hippocampus can survive when starved of oxygen and glucose. Scientists, led by Professor Alastair Buchan, Head of the Medical Sciences Division and Dean of the Medical School, used rats to identify what enabled these cells survive. Many brain cells begin to die very quickly when their oxygen and glucose supply is cut off, for example, during a stroke. Damage and cell death can begin after about three minutes.
For cells seemingly unaffected, a protein called hamartin, is produced when these cells go into survival mode. Without hamartin neurons (brain cells) in the other part of the hippocampus died. Finding out how the cells have been protected will hopefully lead to the development of drugs that can act as neuroprotectants.
Harmartin also appears to have a role as a tumor suppressant although defects are a cause of tuberous sclerosis, a rare condition that results in a spread of non-malignant tumors in the brain and other vital organs, as well as the skin, eyes and lungs.
The complexity of the brain is beautifully demonstrated by the Human Connectome Project. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital are using a purpose built scanner, one of the most powerful scanners in the world, to map the pathways of connectivity in the brain. Follow this link to the Connectome project. It shows, in 3D computer images, how the two sides of the brain are involved in functions such as speech, vision and human emotions. This research is able to show us how the brain normally functions. In the future it will show us how much individuals differ in normal function, what brain circuitry changes occur during our development and during aging, and what happens when disease or conditions inhibit or stop the brain’s connections working.
Have a look at the images, amazing!
University of Oxford (2013, February 24). Ability of brain to protect itself from damage revealed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130224142823.htm
Welcome Trust Sanger Institute. Hamartin Protein. http://pfam.sanger.ac.uk/family/PF04388
Published On: February 27, 2013