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Muscle protein has role in nerve disorders

A protein that plays a role in muscular dystrophies also may be involved in peripheral neuropathy disorders of the nerves that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. The findings, by University of Iowa researchers and colleagues, may shed light on the causes and mechanisms of human peripheral neuropathies, which cause pain, numbness and muscle wasting.

Peripheral neuropathies can be acquired as a result of diseases including diabetes and Hansen's disease (leprosy) or can be inherited. Some congenital peripheral neuropathies (those present at birth) can cause limb deformities. The UI study may suggest new treatment strategies for these conditions.

Kevin Campbell, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and UI professor and interim head of physiology and biophysics and professor of neurology, led the team investigating the role of the protein, dystroglycan, in the peripheral nervous system. The study appeared in the June 5 issue of Neuron.

In the peripheral nervous system, dystroglycan is found in Schwann cells, which wrap themselves around peripheral axons (nerve fibers) and protect them by producing a myelin sheath. The sheath allows nerve impulses to move faster and more efficiently along the nerves. If nerve fibers are the body's electrical wiring, then the myelin sheath represents the insulation.

Each Schwann cell envelops a short stretch of axon, and the gaps between each section of the myelin sheath are called nodes of Ranvier. Ions flow through sodium channels at these nodes generating action potentials or nerve impulses. This signal is transmitted down the nerve fiber from one node to the next.

The researchers found that dystroglycan is necessary to form normal myelin sheaths. They also discovered that loss of the protein disrupts the structure of the nodes of Ranvier and affects the nerve's ability to transmit nerve impulses. The results suggest that disruption of dystroglycan's func
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Contact: Jennifer Brown
jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu
319-335-9917
University of Iowa
17-Jun-2003


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