WSU genetic discovery holds implications for better immunity, longer life

November 20, 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Wrinkles on the skin of a microscopic worm might provide the key to a longer, healthier life for humans.

Working with Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent nematode found in soil, researchers at Washington State University's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine were the first to find that the nervous system controls the tiny worm's cuticle, a skin-like exterior barrier, in response to bacterial infections. Their study was published today in Science Advances.

Often used in biologic research as a model organism, the C. elegans nematode has a relatively simple structure while still sharing several genetic similarities with more complex mammals including humans, so this discovery holds implications for human health as well.

"Our study challenges the traditional view that a physical barrier such as a worm's cuticle or a human's skin does not respond to infections but is part of the body's innate defense against a pathogen," said Assistant Professor Jingru Sun, the corresponding author on the paper. "We show that during infection the nematode can change its cuticle structure and that defense response is controlled by the nervous system."

Sun and her colleagues used technologies such as gene silencing and CRISPR gene editing to show that a G-protein-coupled receptor tied to a gene called npr-8 regulates collagens, proteins that are the key structural components of the nematode's cuticle. Nematodes whose NPR-8 receptor was removed survived longer when exposed to the pathogens that cause pneumonia, salmonella and staph infections. The cuticle of the nematodes without the receptor also remained smooth compared to their wild peers whose cuticle wrinkled in response to the same pathogens.

"For nematodes, it's important to maintain a healthy cuticle that acts as the first line of defense against external insults," said Durai Sellegounder, lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in Sun's Lab.  "Many pathogens produce wicked proteins that try to destroy this barrier and establish infection. Our results show that the nervous system can detect these attacks and respond by remodeling or strengthening this protective structure."

Collagens are the most abundant proteins found in mammals, and declining collagen levels are associated with aging. For humans, collagen loss can create more problems than just unsightly wrinkles. While nematodes have only one "extracellular matrix," the cuticle, humans have an extracellular matrix on every organ and if that matrix is too stiff or too loose it can be harmful.

The WSU study results indicate that collagens play an important role in defense of pathogen infection, and the researchers speculate that the neural regulation of collagens might play a role in overall longevity as well. Their next goal is to understand the underlying defense response mechanisms.
-end-


Washington State University

Related Nervous System Articles from Brightsurf:

Chikungunya may affect central nervous system as well as joints and lungs
Investigation conducted by international group of researchers showed that chikungunya virus can cause neurological infections.

Glial cells play an active role in the nervous system
Researchers at M√ľnster University, Germany, have discovered that glial cells - one of the main components of the brain -not only control the speed of nerve conduction, but also influence the precision of signal transduction in the brain.

Protein produced by the nervous system may help treatments for inflammatory diseases
A Rutgers-led team discover a protein produced by nervous system may be key to treating inflammatory diseases like asthma, allergies, chronic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COVID-19 may attack patients' central nervous system
''There may be more central nervous system penetration of the virus than we think based on the prevalence of olfaction-associated depressed mood and anxiety and this really opens up doors for future investigations to look at how the virus may interact with the central nervous system,'' explains Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, PhD.

Lifting weights makes your nervous system stronger, too
Gym-goers may get frustrated when they don't see results from weightlifting right away, but their efforts are not in vain: the first few weeks of training strengthen the nervous system, not muscles.

COVID-19 threatens the entire nervous system
A new review of neurological symptoms of COVID-19 patients in current scientific literature reveals the disease poses a global threat to the entire nervous system.

Fewer scars in the central nervous system
Researchers have discovered the influence of the coagulation factor fibrinogen on the damaged brain.

Polymerized estrogen shown to protect nervous system cells
In research published today in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrated how estrogen -- a natural hormone produced in the body -- can be polymerized into a slow-releasing biomaterial and applied to nervous system cells to protect those cells and even promote regeneration.

Discovery concerning the nervous system overturns a previous theory
It appears that when our nervous system is developing, only the most viable neurons survive, while immature neurons are weeded out and die.

Autonomic nervous system appears to function well regardless of mode of childbirth
'In a low-risk group of babies born full-term, the autonomic nervous system and cortical systems appear to function well regardless of whether infants were exposed to labor prior to birth,' says Sarah B.

Read More: Nervous System News and Nervous System Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.