Scientists capture new images of movement in nerves

ATHENS, Ohio -- Aided by a microscope and a digital camera, a team of researchers led by an Ohio University cell biologist has snapped the first pictures of a sight that has eluded scientists for 15 years -- tiny threads of protein key to the health of the nervous system darting along nerve fibers.

What they've documented with time-lapse photography could one day lead to a better understanding of nerve malfunction in Lou Gehrig's disease and other, similar neurological disorders.

For the past two decades, scientists have struggled to observe how proteins critical to the growth and maintenance of the nervous system travel through the body's network of nerves. In the March issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology, Anthony Brown, Ohio University associate professor of cell biology, and his colleagues report on a new technique that allowed them to watch and photograph the movement of microscopic threads of protein called neurofilaments in nerve fibers.

A logjam of this neurofilament movement, which blocks other biological processes vital to the nerve's survival, has been seen in patients with certain neurological disorders, such as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"If we can learn something about the way neurofilaments move in nerves, we may get some clues about what possible events could cause them to move abnormally or stop moving," says Brown, principal investigator on the study. "If we understand that, it might have some relevance to these diseases."

The researchers' observation of the neurofilament movement (movies available at http://www.nature.com/ncb//suppl/ncb0300/ncb0300_137/ has provided a rare glimpse of slow axonal transport, the process by which many of the proteins in the nerve cell's cytoplasm travel from the nerve cell body along the nerve fibers, also called axons. These proteins are crucial for the development and maintenance of axons, branch-like fibers that commu

Contact: Andrea Gibson
Ohio University

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