UNC neuroscience center awarded $1.7 million for nerve growth and regeneration studies

CHAPEL HILL - The Neuroscience Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine was awarded $1.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to study factors affecting nerve growth and regeneration. According to Dr. William D. Snider, center director and professor of neurology and cell and molecular physiology at the School of Medicine, the five-year federal grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke should lead to new knowledge of how sensory nerves develop and their response to injury. "Throughout my career, I have been interested in the role of neuronal growth factors in the development of neurons. They appear to be part of the special capacity of mammals, including humans, to develop large and complex nervous systems," Snider said.

In particular, Snider and his group are focused on the impact of growth factor molecules on the two types of branching nerve cell components, or processes: axons and dendrites. Axons conduct nervous impulses away from the cell body and its intricately branching dendritic tree. At their terminals, or synapse, axons transmit nerve impulses to other nerve cells or to other 'effector' cells that act by contraction (muscle) or secretion (gland).

"People have known for more than 100 years that if you cut a nerve in the peripheral nervous system, it will re-grow. However, if you damage the spinal cord, no growth whatsoever occurs." Some of his group's experiments have involved genetically altered mice whose axons contain fluorescent proteins for clear visualization of change over time. Several days after injury to an axon within a nerve of the leg, a dramatic increase in the growth factor GDNF is accompanied by axon growth.

On the molecular level, Snider's laboratory is exploring the genetic pathway by which growth factors affect axon growth. He and his group have identified a signal transduction mediator in the growth factor signaling pathways that apparently

Contact: Leslie Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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