Vascular biologists make a significant discovery in neurobiology

November 29, 2007

Researchers investigating blood vessels at Barts and The London School of Medicine have hit upon a new discovery in neurobiology that could have implications for patients experiencing peripheral nerve disorders. Their work, which was conducted in close collaboration with scientists at Imperial College London, University College London, Cancer Research UK and the University of Geneva, features in this week's edition (30 November 2007) of the renowned journal Science.

Lead by Professor Sussan Nourshargh the research reports on the previously unknown expression and function of a particular cell adhesion molecule, junctional adhesion molecule-C (JAM-C), in peripheral nerves. JAM-C, largely associated to date with inflammatory disorders, was found to play a critical role in maintaining the integrity and function of peripheral nerves by forming an integral part of the insulating sheath that surrounds these nerves - the myelin.

Together with their collaborators, Professor Nourshargh and team member Christoph Scheiermann, discovered that mice in which the JAM-C gene had been deleted showed neuronal functional defects - specifically, impaired nerve conduction and behavioural abnormalities indicating muscle weakness.

The findings of the study also indicated that in nerves from patients with particular peripheral nerve disorders the expression of JAM-C was defective. Collectively this study describes a previously unrecognised role for JAM-C and identifies this molecule as a key player in regulating the structural integrity and function of peripheral nerves. The study also potentially provides insight into the causes of some peripheral nerve disorders and presents a strong platform for further research into this area.

There are more than 100 kinds of peripheral nerve disorders affecting approximately 1 in 20 people, symptoms of which - often starting gradually and steadily worsening - include numbness, pain, tingling, muscle weakness and sensitivity to touch.

Commenting on the significance of the research findings Professor Nourshargh said: "The discovery of JAM-C in peripheral nerves has made a major contribution to the field of neurobiology at a fundamental molecular level, but has also raised the possibility that defective expression and/or function of this molecule may be associated with the pathology of certain peripheral nerve disorders."
This research was conducted in close collaboration with neurologist Professor Praveeen Anand of Imperial College London.

The paper; 'Expression and Function of Junctional Adhesion Molecule-C in Myelinated Peripheral Nerves,' is published in Science on 30 November 2007.

Notes to Editors:

Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry offers international levels of excellence in research and teaching while serving a population of unrivalled diversity amongst which cases of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, TB, oral disease and cancers are prevalent, within east London and the wider Thames Gateway. Through partnership with our linked trusts, notably Barts and The London NHS Trust, and our associated University Hospital trusts - Homerton, Newham, Whipps Cross and Queen's - the School's research and teaching is informed by an exceptionally wide ranging and stimulating clinical environment.

At the heart of the School's mission lies world class research, the result of a focused programme of recruitment of leading research groups from the UK and abroad and a £100 million investment in state-of-the-art facilities. Research is focused on translational research, cancer, cardiology, clinical pharmacology, inflammation, infectious diseases, stem cells, dermatology, gastroenterology, haematology, diabetes, neuroscience, surgery and dentistry.

The School is nationally and internationally recognised for research in these areas, reflected in the £40 million it attracts annually in research income. Its fundamental mission, with its partner NHS Trusts, and other partner organisations such as CRUK, is to ensure that that the best possible clinical service is underpinned by the very latest developments in scientific and clinical teaching, training and research.

Queen Mary University of London

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