Researchers identify enzymes that protect nerves from degeneration
Scientists have observed adult fruit flies to identify an enzyme involved in protecting nerves from degeneration. When a nerve suffers an acute injury, the axon, or long projection of the nerve cell, can become injured and degenerate. This is called Wallerian or Wallerian-like degeneration. On fruit fly wings, the researchers tested two proteins, Nmnat and WldS, both of which had previously been shown to protect nerves from degeneration, to see if any of these might stop the process. All significantly delayed neurodegeneration. They also found that when the animal’s own Nmnat was depleted, the nerves fragmented in the same way as if the axon was physically cut. When Nmnat and the other ‘rescue’ proteins were added back, they could block degeneration, showing that Nmnat is critical to maintaining healthy axons. These results may offer scientists targets for drugs to mitigate neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s or acute nerve damage.