Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say the find could lead to better understanding and treatment of conditions that affect the body’s nerves, such as motor neuron disease and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Scientists say the discovery could also help to predict how quickly a person’s nerves will recover from a severe physical trauma, such as being involved in a car accident.
In the long term, the research could help to develop more appropriate treatment programs for those people who are likely to experience a slow recovery.
Speed of recovery
Researchers were already aware that the gene - named apolipoprotein E (APOE) - controls how quickly nerve cells repair themselves in the brains of people affected by conditions such as stroke or Alzheimer’s disease.
The latest study, however, shows for the first time that one form of the gene - APOE4 - slows the regrowth of nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.
These include nerves that connect to muscles in the arms and legs and those that carry sensory information from the skin.
The team says it may now be possible to identify patients who will have a slow recovery after nerve injury.
Scientists could also use genetic analysis to identify those who are likely to have poorer responses to treatments for conditions such as motor neuron disease.
The research was conducted in mice, however, around one in three humans carry the E4 version of the gene.
Illustration: Microsoft clipart.
University of Edinburgh News Release (04/20/11)
Abstract (Human Molecular Genetics; 20(12), 2406-2421 (04/08/11))