Findings may have wider implications for other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Rutgers scientists think they have found a way to prevent and possibly reverse the most debilitating symptoms of a rare, progressive childhood degenerative disease that leaves children with slurred speech, unable to walk, and in a wheelchair before they reach adolescence.
In today’s online edition of Nature Medicine, Karl Herrup, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences provides new information on why this genetic disease attacks the cerebellum – a part of the brain that controls movement coordination, equilibrium, and muscle tone – and other regions of the brain.
Using mouse and human brain tissue studies, Herrup and his colleagues at Rutgers found that in the brain tissue of young adults who died from axtaxia-telangiectasia, or A-T disease, a protein known as HDAC4 was in the wrong place. HDAC4 is known to regulate bone and muscle development, but it is also found in the nerve cells of the brain. The protein that is defective in A-T, they discovered, plays a critical role in keeping HDAC4 from ending up in the nucleus of the nerve cell instead of in the cytoplasm where it belongs. In a properly working nerve cell, the HDAC4 in the cytoplasm helps to prevent nerve cell degeneration; however, in the brain tissue of young adults who had died from A-T disease, the protein was in the nucleus where it attacked the histones – the small proteins that coat and protect the DNA.