Study identifies new protein on neurons that may be useful as survival/growth factor

Tampa, FL (March 27, 2002) Researchers at the University of South Florida's Roskamp Institute have identified an immune molecule, CD40, on the surface of neurons that appears to promote both neuron development and protection. The finding is a first step in defining the role of CD40 in the brain at different stages of life and evaluating its usefulness in helping neurons survive.

The study is published in the latest March issue of the journal European Molecular Biology Organization.

In the bloodstream, the interaction between the protein receptor CD40 and another protein, CD40 ligand (CD40L), allows white cells to trigger antibody production and to activate cellular immunity. This immune response helps neutralize foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. However, in an earlier study, the USF reseachers found that when this same CD40-CD40L signaling system is triggered in the brain, the immune response can cause microglia damage to neurons.

This latest study demonstrates for the first time that CD40 is produced and displayed on the surface of neurons in the brain. It also attempts to answer the question: What is the purpose of CD40 on neurons?

The researchers came up with two answers. First, they found that adding CD40L to immature neurons caused these primitive cells with few connecting branches to mature into neurons with widespread branches suitable for making connections to other neurons.

Secondly, in the presence of CD40L, neurons with CD40 on their surface were much more likely to resist injury than neurons not given CD40.

What the researchers found in the test tube also was borne out in transgenic mice deficient in CD40. The brains of these older, CD40-deficient mice showed signs of degeneration and the mice demonstrated gross central nervous system abnormalties with age.

"These effects suggest that the CD40 signaling on neurons plays a physiological role in normal neuronal cell maintenance

Contact: Anne DeLotto Baier
University of South Florida Health

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