A key metabolic pathway must be switched off during neuron development or fewer neurons (green, on the right) survive.
by Jennifer Hicks
Researchers at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies released a study in the July 12 issue of eLife, which identifies the point at which there’s a dramatic metabolic shift in developing neurons. This discovery of the path a neuron takes during development could help provide insight into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
In a press release, Tony Hunter, American Cancer Society Professor, Salk Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory said there’s relatively little understanding about how neuron metabolism is first established.
Oxidative stress leads to disruptions in neural cells which are key players in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or ALS. The brain needs oxygen to survive but by knowing when and how neuron metabolism goes off track and mitochondria fail to function properly in these diseases, researchers can begin to devise ways to re-route metabolic processes to prevent degeneration.
“Aside from enabling us to understand this process during neuronal development, the work also allows us to better understand neurodegenerative disease,” added Hunter.
What the researchers found in the study was that while neurons shut off the aerobic glycolysis to survive during the metabolic process at the same time neurons also had to kick-start oxidative phosphorylation in order to survive. When the researchers stopped that metabolic process from happening, the neurons died. A neuron dysfunction of any kind can potentially lead to neurodegenerative disease for a number of reasons.