Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (MA, USA) have successfully utilized a genetic fruit fly model of Alexander disease, a rare neurodegenerative disease known to affect astrocytes, to study the role of the star-shaped cells in neurodegeneration. While damage to astrocytes has previously been identified in many neurodegenerative diseases, the precise role of astrocytes in neurodegeneration has remained unclear.
Utilizing the fruit fly model, the team identified nitric oxide as one of the key mediators involved in neuronal cell death. The results were then confirmed in a mouse model, and evidence of the same key mediator was also confirmed in Alexander disease patients. The results were published recently in Nature Communications.
“We’re excited to be contributing to a growing area of study of how astrocytes contribute to neurodegeneration, and to have uncovered a role for nitric oxide as a neuronal cell death signaling molecule,” commented Mel B. Feany (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), author of the study. “Our findings define a potential mechanism for neuronal cell death in Alexander disease and possibly other neurodegenerative diseases with astrocyte dysfunction.”