(La Jolla, CA, April 23, 2007) -- A team of researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research ("Burnham") has been awarded $7.39 million from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. The funding will support a five-year, multi-project study entitled "Neuron-Glia Communication in Development."
Glial cells are at the center of most functions of the nervous system. They outnumber neurons (nerve cells) in the brain and spinal cord by a factor of 10:1 and provide physical and nutritional support for neurons. They are also believed to guide the migration of neurons during development and to regulate the chemical environment surrounding synapses in the adult brain. And yet, little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which glial cells communicate with neurons and how the failure of such communication leads to neurological diseases. New studies underway at Burnham are addressing this information gap.
"The study of neuron-glia communication is a rapidly emerging field in basic neurobiology. It also has strong relevance to demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and neuropathies," said project director Yu Yamaguchi, M.D., Ph.D. Myelin is the protective sheath coating nerve fibers, and the damage or loss of myelin (demyelination) severely impairs the ability of nerve fibers to conduct electrical signals. Multiple sclerosis is the most well known of the so-called demyelinating diseases. "With this funding, we expect to resolve how glial cells function in the normal brain. But also, we hope to provide new insights into the mechanisms of demyelinating diseases," said Yamaguchi.