Zebrafish study provides innovative ideas for new treatment strategies

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A study on zebrafish has increased our understanding of how motor neurones work and has provided potential clues for the development of future treatments for MND. The study, led by Dr Catherina Becker from University of Edinburgh, showed that a unique motor neurone repair system found in zebrafish can be enhanced if a particular signal called Notch1 is stopped. The results were published in the 29 February edition of Journal of Neuroscience.

What did they find?

Unlike us, zebrafish have the ability to regenerate motor neurones when they’re damaged. This means that zebrafish can provide scientists with an excellent tool to find out about motor neurone repair. A better understanding how zebrafish achieve neurone regeneration could provide clues to develop new treatment strategies for MND.

From their studies, Dr Becker and colleagues found that a chemical signaling pathway called Notch1 is increased when the neurones are damaged in zebrafish.

By over activating the Notch1 signal, they found that new motor neurones would not grow well, and would not grow in the same prolific numbers as normal. This means that an over active Notch1 signal can stop the regeneration of motor neurones that occurs in zebrafish.

To test whether the Notch1 signal could be counteracted, the research group treated zebrafish with an anti-Notch1 chemical to stop the Notch1 signal. This increased the generation of motor neurones.

As well as having a deeper understanding of the basic biology of how zebrafish regenerate their motor neurones, this study may help to provide new clues for the development of future treatments for MND.

This type of research is vital to lay the foundations for future studies. With a solid foundation of understanding of how motor neurones work, we can work toward identifying new and better treatments for MND.

What does this mean for people with MND?

This work is still at a very early stage of development. It unfortunately doesn’t mean that a treatment coming from this research will be available soon.

Researchers still need to identify whether developing a drug that can stop, or slow down the Notch1 signaling pathway would be a beneficial treatment strategy. To do this, researchers will need to carry out tests in a cellular, and animal models of MND. This is an important step, as it determines whether treatments are safe and effective before testing the treatment in people.

More information:

The Journal of Neuroscience, 29 February 2012, 32(9): 3245-3252; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6398-11.2012

Official Edinburgh University news release.

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