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Limiting the damage in stroke

Scientists at the Universities of Heidelberg and Ulm and a unit of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo, Italy, have discovered that a specific signal within brain cells may determine whether they live or die after a stroke. Their study, published online (November 13) by Nature Medicine, strongly suggests that new therapies for victims of strokes could be developed by controlling a molecule involved in passing the signal.

Strokes lead to death or permanent disabilities for millions of people every year when an interruption of the flow of blood to brain cells deprives them of vital oxygen and nutrients. But the fate of the cells seems to depend on what happens next. Scientists discovered that damaged and dying brain cells are very actively using an internal "communications network" known as the NF-kB signalling pathway. Cells have many such networks; their function is usually to switch genes on or off, changing the chemistry and behavior of the cell. Most drugs work by interfering with molecules that play important roles within these networks.

Scientists knew that NF-kB signaling was active in neurons, but its function was unclear. "We had some evidence that in nerve cells, it could trigger a self-destruction program called apoptosis," says Markus Schwaninger of the University of Heidelberg, one of the heads of the project. "If that was the case, the signal could certainly be playing a role in the death of neurons after stroke and other types of brain damage." To address this hypothesis, Schwaninger's group had established a sophisticated method of creating a stroke-like condition in mice, a model that can be used to investigate new therapies. What would happen if the activity of NF-kB in neurons were blocked after a stroke? To test this, genetic mouse models were required. The group of Manolis Pasparakis at EMBL's Mouse Biology Unit developed a strain of "conditional knockout" mouse in which a protein called IKK2, whi
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Contact: Sarah Sherwood
sherwood@embl.de
49-622-138-7125
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
13-Nov-2005


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