An Italian research sheds light on the nerve cell protection mechanism. In recent years, several scientific studies have suggested that noradrenaline (or norepinephrine), a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, may be a crucial element for the protection of nerve cells. Now a research conducted by the Neurobiology of Movement Disorders Unit of the Irccs Neuromed of Pozzilli (Is), in collaboration with the University of Pisa and the Sapienza University of Rome, clarifies one of the mechanisms through which noradrenaline is capable to avoid neurodegeneration, a characteristic element of various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, was conducted on nerve cells grown in the laboratory. “A classic method to obtain neurotoxic effects – explains Carla Letizia Busceti, researcher of the Neurobiology Unit of the Irccs Neuromed Movement Disorders – is to subject them to methamphetamine. The administration of this molecule in animal models, or its intake as a substance of abuse in humans, generates cognitive disorders similar to degenerative dementias, as well as facilitating the onset of Parkinson’s disease. This has made methamphetamine a useful model for understanding the mechanisms underlying specific neuronal degenerations ”.
The experiments conducted by Neuromed showed that, by previously administering norepinephrine, the neurons were completely protected from the toxicity induced by methamphetamine. “We knew – adds Francesca Biagioni, researcher of the Neurobiology Unit of Movement Disorders of the Irccs Neuromed – that in Parkinson’s disease and degenerative dementias there is an early dysfunction of the neurons that produce noradrenaline. Until now, however, it was not clear how the loss of the neurotransmitter was able to favor these diseases “.
“With our study – continues Biagioni – we have been able to see that noradrenaline acts on two cellular targets: the mitochondria and the autophagic pathway (one of the most important processes through which cells renew themselves, eliminating and recycling components that are no longer functioning). The two systems are thus protected from methamphetamine-induced neurodegeneration, which, we recall, is similar to that which occurs in degenerative dementia and Parkinson’s. We have also been able to see how noradrenaline exerts these effects by acting on a specific type of receptors, the beta 2 , which, if stimulated by specific drugs, are able to increase protection “.
“The loss of noradrenaline in the brain – comments Francesco Fornai, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pisa and head of the Neurobiology Unit of Neuromed Movement Disorders – often anticipates the onset of symptoms in diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Knowing the receptors responsible for the protective effect of noradrenaline, and the demonstration of the molecular mechanisms that are recruited to exercise neuroprotection, opens up new therapeutic avenues for those pathologies “.