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New weapons against neurodegenerative diseases

Recent research carried out at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of FORTH -results feature on today's issue of Nature (31/10/2002), one of the most authoritative international scientific reviews- has lead to the discovery of a key mechanism responsible for the degeneration and damage of nerve cells. The results may lead to the development of new prevention and treatment methods against neurodegenerative diseases as well as strokes.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer;s, Batten, Huntington's, Parkinson's disease and many others, are among the most dramatic, often fatal pathological conditions in humans. A common feature of all neurodegenerative diseases is the gradual yet massive loss of nervous tissue, a tissue type known to be difficult if at all possible to replenish. The extensive loss of nervous tissue takes place through the process of necrotic cell death and leads to a dramatic deterioration of physical and mental functions and ultimately to death. Similar neurodegenerative phenomena with equally painful consequences are also observed in cases of ischemic stroke, epilepsy as well as abuse of toxic or narcotic substances.

Researchers Nektarios Tavernarakis and Popi Syntichaki experimented on the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and managed to isolate and characterize two gene groups of great significance for necrotic cell death. This discovery is extremely important, as it is the first time that particular genes are implicated in necrotic cell death. The genes of each of these two groups are responsible for the production of specific enzymes, known as proteases. Under normal conditions, these proteases degrade certain cell protein types in a fully controlled manner thus enabling their turnover as well as the homeostatic regulation of many cellular and biochemical processes. The proteases are thus indispensable molecules. However, under pathological conditions, they act uncontrollably, degrading essential cell proteins, and finally leading to the cell's necrosis.

It is worth noting that this research made use of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans for the first time in Greece. Indicative of the unique potential this organism offers for the study of biological phenomena is the fact that, a few weeks ago, this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to three researchers (Sydney Brenner, Robert Horvitz and John Sulston), working exclusively on this organism, for their groundbreaking studies on the mechanisms of development and cell death.

For more information please contact with:
Nektarios Tavernarakis
IMBB Researcher
Τel: +30 2810 391066, +30 2810 391065
George Thireo
ΙΜΒΒ Director
Τel: +30 2810 391109