A Long and Winding Road


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Long-distance messengers star in many heroic tales. A team of Weizmann Institute researchers has now discovered how molecular messengers help injured nerve cells to heal themselves.


Nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system can regrow when their extensions, called axons, are damaged. The injured axon issues a call for help, which is transmitted by molecular messengers that bind to molecules of phosphorus. In this phosphorylated state, they deliver a message that prompts the cell to manufacture proteins vital for the healing of the injured axon. The problem is that the messengers can easily lose their phosphorus message in the course of their arduous journey along the axon, which in the human body can reach up to a meter in length.


Dr. Michael Fainzilber and graduate students Eran Perlson and Shlomit Hanz, all of the Biological Chemistry Department, discovered that the molecular messengers, together with their phosphorus message, bind to a special molecule called vimentin, which in turn links up to motor proteins in the axon. It is thanks to this linkage and protection that the messengers can safely carry out the task of transmitting the axon’s call for help to the cell body. The scientists hope that these findings might advance the search for new therapies for injured nerve fibers.


The research team also included Prof. Rony Seger of the Biological Regulation Department, Prof. Michael Elbaum of the Materials and Interfaces Department, graduate students Keren Ben Yaakov and Yael Segal-Ruder of the Biological Chemistry Department and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Daphna Frenkiel-Krispin of the Materials and Interfaces Department.


Dr. Michael Fainzilber’s research is supported by the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine; the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurological Diseases; the Irwin Green Alzheimer’s Research Fund; the Abisch Frenkel Foundation for the Promotion of Life Sciences; the Buddy Taub Foundation; and Mr. and Mrs. Alan Fischer. Dr. Fainzilber is the incumbent of the Daniel E. Koshland Sr. Career Development Chair.