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Nov 13

Research Bit: Injury signaling in axons and across neural tissues

Research Bits
The Packard Center welcomed Marc Freeman, PhD from the Oregon Health & Science University to a recent Investigator's meeting.

Meeting Date: November 13, 2020

Presenter: Marc Freeman, PhD

Talk Title: Injury signaling in axons and across neural tissues

What was the question being asked?

What proteins are responsible for signaling that an axon has been injured and needs to be trimmed and regrown?

Why is this important for ALS research?

The motor neurons affected by ALS do not die very quickly. The process takes place over many months or years, leaving a window of time for intervention to take place. By understanding how the human body signals that a neuron is dying, we may devise better ways to “wake up” the body’s normal methods to regrow those degenerating axons.

What was the take-home message?

A new gene (“Axed”) was identified in fruit flies that is crucial for an injured neuron to be trimmed back and regrow. Future investigations of this protein will help us understand how cells “know” they are injured, and how they respond to that injury. Additionally, Dr. Freeman’s group found that when a neuron is damaged, even the nearby, undamaged neurons show a strong response. This finding helps us further understand how degenerating neurons send signals to nearby cells, and can even affect the function of those healthy neighbors.

How do you think the results of this study might impact future approaches to the treatment of ALS?

Model organisms, such as mice, fruit flies, and yeast, have been crucial tools to understand how mutations in a gene lead to ALS. Additionally, the research summarized here emphasizes that model organisms can be used to study the function of proteins even in the absence of disease. In order to understand how a disease alters cellular function, we first need to understand how that process happens in a healthy cell. Dr. Freeman’s work furthers our understanding of how healthy neurons signal damage, as well as how nearby cells respond. This will allow future investigations into how ALS may affect this signaling, which will help us design more effective therapies to improve the response to cell damage.

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