Preventing neurons from dying: neuron survival deciphered

Preventing neurons from dying: neuron survival deciphered
© iStock/koto_feja

Researchers have deciphered the regulatory impact on neuronal survival making a monumental step towards preventing neurons from dying.

A research group led by Dr. Volker Busskamp from the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden at the TU Dresden (CRTD), Germany, has deciphered the regulatory impact on neuronal survival of a small non-coding RNA molecule, miRNA, at the highest resolution to date. Such investigations have allowed researchers to discover the possibilities of preventing neurons from dying.

Protection from neurodegenerative diseases

The extensive systems biology methods used here could become a new typical way for the process in which miRNAs are researched. This method of decoding gene regulation prepares applications for strengthening neurons in order to protect them from neurodegenerative diseases.

First being discovered 25 years ago, miRNAs are still a mystery to scientists, as understanding their impact on gene regulation of messenger RNAs is still incomplete.

While computer-based studies forecast the maximum range of miRNA interactions, some of which can bind thousands of mRNAs, experimental studies usually provide only one or very few.

Busskamp’s team found that, contrary to previous assumptions, brain-enriched miRNA (miR-124) is unnecessary during neuronal differentiation from adult human stem cells but has a huge effect on neuronal survival.

Preventing neurons from dying

The team combined both experimental and computational approaches, essentially performing an in-depth system level analysis of miR-124. From this they found that the miR-124 targeted genes are simultaneously regulated.

Many of these controlled genes had direct physiological functions, in particular preventing neurons from dying. The research group used a novel computational approach to also investigate indirect effects.

Busskamp explains: “Our deep mechanistic insights may lead to biomedical applications enabling the protection of neurons against degeneration.”

“In addition, previously uncharacterised genes in the regulatory networks could be investigated and new functions assigned to them”.

The interdisciplinary approach of experimental manipulation and sophisticated bioinformatic analysis sets new standards in the miRNA gene regulation research.

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