Scientists studying the human brain have discovered two exciting new therapeutic targets for neurogenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have identified and analysed a protein found in the brain’s nerve fibres called SARM1. Researchers believe the insights could lead to the development of novel and effective treatments for brain diseases.
Axon degeneration is a scientific term to describe the breakdown in communication between neurons in the brain. While scientists know this breakdown in communication is a central feature of brain diseases, they have struggled to identify the specific causes of axon degeneration – until now.
In a groundbreaking new study published in Neuron, scientists describe how they identified SARM1. SARM1 is a protein that is activated when nerve fibres become damaged by injury, illness or side effects of certain drugs. In tests, scientists established that the activation of SARM1 can start axon degeneration, potentially causing degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
By establishing SARM1 as a cause of axon degeneration, researchers believe it can become a target for new treatments and therapies that could slow, or even stop, the development of these life-limiting conditions.
“After a damaging incident occurs, this protein (SARM1) often induces a form of nerve fibre degeneration – known as axon degeneration – a ‘self-destruct’ mechanism of sorts,” said lead researcher Dr Jeff Nanson, “This is a key pathological feature of many terrible neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and also amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), traumatic brain injury and glaucoma.”
The researchers used innovative techniques, including x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy, to analyse the protein structure and define its shape. The methods allowed scientists to see inside the protein, enabling them to understand its structure.
These innovative techniques played a crucial role in enabling scientists to characterise SARM1, a critical step along the road to developing new therapies to target it. “There are currently no treatments to prevent this nerve fibre degeneration, but now we know that SARM1 is triggering a cascade of degeneration, we can develop future drugs to precisely target this protein. This work will hopefully help design new inhibiting drugs that could stop this process in its tracks,” explained Nanson.
Scientists believe in the future SARM1 treatments could play a role in treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. These diseases are an increasing burden on healthcare systems as populations age, Nanson believes. “It is time we had effective treatments for these devastating disorders,” he said.
While the identification of SARM1 could lead to exciting and effective new treatments in the future, early diagnosis still offers the best chance for the best outcomes for those with neurogenerative disorders. Our PrediSpot genetic test analyses your DNA to identify whether you are at risk of developing severe medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. During the PrediSpot test, scientists analyse your genetic sample for specific genetic polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with serious medical conditions.
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You can read the full paper, SARM1 is a metabolic sensor activated by an increased NMN/NAD+ ratio to trigger axon degeneration, here.