For nerves damaged as a result of disease or trauma, regeneration can be slow. Damaged nerves typically will grow back only by 1 or 2 millimeters per day. For a person with extensive nerve damage, the wait can seem interminable. Sometimes the long wait causes surrounding muscles to atrophy, hindering recovery.
In a new study published in Current Biology, researchers from University of South Carolina took a deeper look at phosphorylation, a process that helps nerves grow back more quickly.
In previous studies, the researchers discovered that damaged nerves could regrow more easily once “stress granules” at the site of injury were broken apart. Stress granules are clusters of protein G3BP1 found in nerve cells. Researchers in the present study found that protein phosphorylation (a chemical process) helps break up stress granules. Phosphorylation makes G3BP1 molecules become more negatively charged, which releases mRNAs. Cells use mRNA to build proteins that extend the nerve, causing it to grow faster.
Study coauthor Professor Jeff Twiss of University of South Carolina notes that the researchers figured out not only what protein was important to the process but also how the body regulates that protein. Lead study author Pabitra Sahoo adds that having that knowledge can help scientists “design molecules that can promote phosphorylation.”
In other words, now that scientists know that phosphorylation speeds nerve growth, they can design a drug that makes more phosphorylation happen. Luckily, they also now know where to start: with casein kinase 2-alpha (CK2α).
In the present study, the researchers found that the enzyme CK2α facilitates phosphorylation. As CK2α levels increased, the nerves grew faster and the cell gained phosphorylated G3BP1. In laboratory tests, damaged nerves were found to synthesize their own CK2α at the site of injury through a process regulated by calcium ions.
The next step is for the researchers to figure out how to increase synthesis of CK2α to speed up the nerve growth, which could be key to faster healing after nerve injury.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.