Cell biologists led by Utrecht University’s Professor Casper Hoogenraad have discovered the protein that may be the crucial traffic regulator for the transport of vital molecules inside nerve cells. When this traffic regulator is removed, the flow of traffic comes to a halt. The resulting ‘traffic jams’ are reported to play a key role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease. The discovery of this traffic regulator may therefore be crucial for a better understanding of the development of neural disorders. The results of their research will be published in the scientific journal Neuron on Wednesday 19 April.
Neurons are the main cells in the nervous system. They process information by sending, receiving, and combining signals from around the brain and the body. All neurons have a cell body where molecules vital for its functioning and maintenance are produced. The axon, a long and slender extension that can reach one metre in length in humans, sends information from the nerve cell to other nerve cells. Neuronal survival is highly dependent on the transport of vital molecules within this axon. Research has shown that defects in the transport function in the axons play a key role in degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer.