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Newly Discovered Gene Protects against Brain Damage

Press Release No. 117/2011
21 April 2011
Therapy prospects for stroke and neurodegenerative diseases
Bading 160x200
Prof. Dr. Hilmar Bading

Heidelberg University scientists headed by Prof. Dr. Hilmar Bading have discovered a gene that protects against the consequences of a stroke. The researchers at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Neurosciences (IZN) were able to demonstrate that supplementation of this gene product makes neurons of the central nervous system more resistant against damage. In a stroke, oxygen deficiency and excessive concentrations of neurotransmitters cause extensive cell death in the brain. Under these toxic conditions, neurons equipped with the newly discovered gene via gene transfer have better survival prospects. The findings have now been published in the American Journal of Neuroscience.

One of the remarkable features of the newly discovered gene is the fact that it is part of the body’s own protection programme. It is always switched on by neurons when they are active, i.e. an active brain will build up its own protective shield. “We obtained initial indications for a potential protective function of this gene from experiments on so-called neuron cultures with which one can simulate the conditions the brain is exposed to during a stroke,” Professor Bading reports. “Subsequently we used a mouse model to demonstrate that the brain damage caused by insufficient blood supply during a stroke can be reduced by the protective gene.”

The Heidelberg scientists could show that the gene not only protects against the consequences of a stroke but generally makes neurons more resistant to harmful conditions. Accordingly, it could also be used to counteract neuron loss that takes place during aging processes or as a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease. The scientists have not yet fully identified the precise mechanism by which the gene protects the cell from death, but their results suggest that the protective gene can suppress the effects of “suicide genes”.

Given that the body can activate this gene and thus builds up its own protective shield, means according to Professor Bading “that to stay fit one should not only pay regular visits to the gym but also stay in good mental shape. An active brain is better protected.” The findings of the Heidelberg scientists not only open up new paths for the development of therapies for strokes and neurodegenerative diseases, they also underscore the importance of mental activity for health.

Original publication
Zhang, S.-J., Buchthal, B., Lau, D., Hayer, S., Dick, O., Schwaninger, M., Veltkamp, R., Zou, M., Weiss, U., Bading, H. (2011): A Signaling Cascade of Nuclear Calcium-CREB-ATF3 Activated by Synaptic NMDA Receptors Defines a Gene Repression Module That Protects against Extrasynaptic NMDA Receptor-Induced Neuronal Cell Death and Ischemic Brain Damage. J. Neurosci. 31: 4978-4990.

Prof. Dr. Hilmar Bading
Interdisciplinary Centre for Neurosciences (IZN)
phone: +49 6221 548218

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