Researchers from Utrecht have resolved the structure of a protein that is responsible for the connection between the neurons and the cells that form the protective layer around them. This protein, called MAG, is also responsible for the exchange of information between the cells. As MAG is involved in the recovery of neurons, this knowledge may be useful in the search for treatments for diseases in which the nervous system is damaged. The researchers published their findings in Nature Communications on 6 December 2016.
In order to ensure that nerves can transmit their signals fast enough through our nervous system, they are enwrapped by a fatty substance called myelin. The protein myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) plays a major role in the formation and maintenance of the myelin. It is located between the cell membrane of the neuron and that of the cells that form the myelin. When neurons are damaged, for example due to spinal cord injury or a stroke, MAG actively inhibits recovery.
“If you could switch off the protein, you might be able to stimulate the regeneration of the neuron”, says Bert Janssen, chemist at the Department of Crystal and Structural Chemistry and leader of the research. “That’s why we are so interested in the exact structure of MAG.”