Interactions discovered in cells insulating nerve pathways

Schwann cells form a protective sheath around nerve fibres and ensure that nerve impulses are transmitted rapidly. If these cells are missing or damaged, severe neurological diseases may occur as a result. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in demonstrating a complex interaction within Schwann cells which plays an important role for correct cell maturation.

Insulation and nutrients

For years, Dr. Franziska Fröb and Dr. Michael Wegner have devoted most of their time to researching one particular type of cell in the human body: Schwann cells. Similarly to insulation on electric cables, these cells form a sheath around the nerve fibres in the peripheral nervous system which connect nerve cells to muscle cells and the surrounding area and conduct impulses. If this protective layer, known as the myelin sheath, is damaged, the exchange of information becomes slower, incorrect, or ceases entirely. Nerve fibres and the corresponding nerve cells may die completely, as the Schwann cells also provide them with nutrients. The consequences for patients are pain, numbness, muscular atrophy or problems with moving hands and feet correctly.

Improved understanding of networks

Researchers Dr. Fröb and Prof. Wegner, Chair of Biochemistry and Pathobiochemistry at FAU, hope that they will one day be able to help people suffering from diseases such as diabetic neuropathy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, there is still a long way to go. After more than 25 years of research on this type of cell, most of the proteins and protein complexes which have a role to play in the development and maturation of Schwann cells have been identified. However, the proteins interact with each other as well. Research into how the various components within this regulatory network interact is only just beginning. 'We will only be able to consider possible therapies once we have gained a better understanding of the networks,' Prof. Dr. Michael Wegner explains the current state of research.

The FAU working group has now succeeded in deciphering one of these complex links. Research has focused on a protein named Ep400, which the team has only recently discovered in Schwann cells. Together with other proteins, this protein acts within Schwann cells to ensure that DNA is packaged correctly and marked accordingly. Packaging is immensely important in order to transport genetic information to the cell nucleus as compactly as possible. Marking allows the required information to be found and read. In their experiments, the scientists deleted the protein from the Schwann cells. Thereafter, the mechanism for creating cells did not complete correctly and overlapped the maturation mechanism which would normally follow, meaning that certain proteins which were no longer required continued to be created without restriction, whilst other proteins which were required were no longer produced in sufficient quantities. As a result, the myelin sheaths of the Schwann cells were deformed. They were too thin and short, and the protective sheath of the nerve fibres was defective as a result. When the scientists deleted a further protein named Tfap2a which is normally regulated by Ep400 and which had been continued to be produced, there was a marked reduction in defects.

"We are, of course, pleased that we have made such a significant step forward in understanding the complex interdependencies within the Schwann cells," explains Prof. Wegner. "Our results indicate that DNA structural changes induced by proteins such as Ep400 are extremely important and may also be useful in future to develop therapies for peripheral neuropathy."

Franziska Fröb, Elisabeth Sock, Ernst R Tamm, Anna-Lena Saur, Simone Hillgärtner, Trevor J Williams, Toshihiro Fujii, Rikiro Fukunaga, Michael Wegner.
Ep400 deficiency in Schwann cells causes persistent expression of early developmental regulators and peripheral neuropathy.
Nature Communicationsvolume 10, Article number: 2361 (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10287-w.

Most Popular Now

AstraZeneca divests rights for Losec to Cheplaphar…

AstraZeneca has agreed to sell the global commercial rights, excluding China, Japan, the US and Mexico, for Losec (omeprazole) and associated brands to Cheplapharm Arznei...

Bayer, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachus…

Bayer and Partners HealthCare's founding members Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) today announced the launch of a joint lab to ...

Amgen announces positive results from two Phase 3 …

Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) today announced that the results of a prespecified interim analysis of an open-label, randomized, controlled global multicenter Phase 3 trial (2012021...

Cause of antibiotic resistance identified

Scientists have confirmed for the first time that bacteria can change form to avoid being detected by antibiotics in the human body. Studying samples from elderly patient...

Brilinta monotherapy in high-bleeding risk patient…

New data from TWILIGHT, a Phase IV independent trial (funded by AstraZeneca), showed that in patients at high-bleeding risk who underwent PCI and completed 3 months of du...

Novartis and Microsoft announce collaboration to t…

Novartis announced an important step in reimagining medicine by founding the Novartis AI innovation lab and by selecting Microsoft as its strategic AI and data-science pa...

Bayer inks deals with eleven startups under G4A Di…

Bayer announced today that the company has signed collaboration agreements with eleven digital health startups. As part of the program, Bayer will support these startup c...

Ian Read to retire as Executive Chairman of Pfizer…

Following its regularly scheduled meeting, the Board of Directors of Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) today announced that Executive Chairman of the Board Ian C. Read has chosen to...

Discovery of new source of cancer antigens may exp…

For more than a decade, scientist Stephen Albert Johnston and his team at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute have pooled their energies into an often scoffed-...

Pharmacists provide patient value in team-based ca…

With inhaler in hand, Dr. Cheng Yuet went over every detail to make sure the patient understood how the drug would control their COPD symptoms. Dr. Yuet is proving what a...

Chinese activists protest the use of traditional t…

In the West, the number of people challenging scientific authority has been growing in past decades. This has, among other things, led to a decline in the support for mas...

AI and big data predict which research will influe…

An artificial intelligence/machine learning model to predict which scientific advances are likely to eventually translate to the clinic has been developed by Ian Hutchins...