AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 2, 2017

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Brain Cell 'Executioner' Identified

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Common culprit may cause damage in stroke, brain injury, neurodegenerative disease

Despite their different triggers, the same molecular chain of events appears to be responsible for brain cell death from strokes, injuries and even such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have pinpointed the protein at the end of that chain of events, one that deliver the fatal strike by carving up a cell’s DNA. They find, they say, this potentially opens up a new avenue for the development of drugs to prevent, stop or weaken the process.

The new experiments, conducted in laboratory-grown cells, build on earlier work by research partners Ted Dawson, MD, PhD, now director for the Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Valina Dawson, PhD, professor of neurology. Their research groups found that despite their very different causes and symptoms, injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and the rare, fatal genetic disorder, Huntington’s disease, have a shared mechanism of a distinct form of “programmed” brain cell death they named parthanatos after the personification of death in Greek mythology and PARP, and enzyme involved in the process. 

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