Science Questions

Whatís the point of keeping a nerve cell alive without an axon?

Sun, 31st Jan 2010

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Science Copperfield asked:

Whatís the point of keeping a nerve cell alive without an axon? Isnít this like putting a man in the middle of a stadium out of audio range for shouting.


We put this question to Dr Michael Coleman:


Michael -   Thatís a very good question.  We cut axons in a culture dish because thatís a very well defined beginning of the degeneration period, and it gives us good control over when that degeneration starts.  But thereís very good evidence now that a similar mechanism of degeneration takes place in several neurodegenerative disorders; motor neuron disease;  glaucoma, where pressure in the eye actually causes the axons to degenerate, and probably an Alzheimerís disease too.  So, weíre using the cutting model as a model for whatís happening in the neurodegenerative disorders.  A good analogy, going back again to the traffic holdup, it would be the difference between actually closing a motorway, so you totally block the motorway - that will be the cut - and restricting the traffic for example to one lane or some speed limits.  That the type of holdup is quite different, but the particular traffic thatís affected by that is actually going to be quite similar.


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