Australian scientists said Friday they have found new evidence that shows how brain cells are recycled and how they communicate with each other, which should aid in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.
Reporting in the U.S. journal Science published Friday, the research team from the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and the University of Newcastle said it has discovered that calcium controls the recycling in brain cells."In effect what we have discovered is the process that enables brain cells to communicate," Dr. Phillip Robinson told United Press International. "We're dealing with how the brain cells talk to each other."
"It's a whole new realm of communication we're delving into," said Robinson, the scientific director of the endocrine unit of the John Hunter Hospital.
The research team discovered that calcium controls the "on and off switches" for recycling brain nerve cells and that the switches can be controlled by drugs, he said.
"It's like understanding what's in the engine of a car for the first time, so we can start to say in disease, or in a broken down brain, "is this bit wrong" or "is this bit defective."
Calcium activates a key protein called calicineurin, also found outside the brain in cells controlling the immune system.
The discovery was based on earlier work by U.S. scientists, showing that a mutant fruit fly had a defect in the recycling machinery of its brain.