Understanding the Pathways to Cell Death in the Brain – Caspases Cut to Kill
Neurodegeneration, the loss of structure and function of neurons in the brain, causes cellular dysfunction and the eventual death of brain cells. This cellular dysfunction can result in cognitive deficts and motor abnormalites. Several neurological diseases, including Parkinson, Alzheimer and Huntington disease and stroke, occur as a result of a neurodegenerative process. The prevalence of these neurodegenerative disorders is increasing dramatically as people are living longer, and now affect millions of people worldwide.
Interestingly, research now shows there are a number of similar mechanisms involved in these disorders at the cellular level, which suggests that common treatments may be of benefit for some neurological diseases.
Dr. Rona Graham, Canada Research Chair in Neurodegenerative Diseases, is studying how proteins involved in cell death pathways are regulated with aging and how they may be altered during the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
The activation of caspases—proteins involved in cell death—and cleavage of particular proteins is critical in the development of several neurodegenerative diseases. Research indicates activation of caspase-6, a type of molecular scissors, occurs early in the neurodegenerative process. Importantly, its activation has been observed in preclinical Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseased brains.
Graham is exploring the biology of caspase-6 and other caspases to develop successful treatments to slow or prevent nerve cell atrophy. This knowledge will provide valuable new insights into the mechanisms involved in neurodegenerative diseases and provide a greatly-needed understanding of the crucial factors that determine caspase regulation.
The overall goal of Graham’s research is to outline the critical, common steps involved in the development of neurological diseases and help identify treatments that could delay or prevent brain degeneration.