Boosting the Fitness of Neurons Against Aging and Neurodegeneration



Researchers at Duke University Medical Center discover a mechanism to enhance the fitness of cells against aging and neurodegenerative diseases. This finding will pave the way for novel therapeutic approaches in neuroprotection against aging-related disorders and neurodegeneration.

Press Release

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Durham, North Carolina, USA – April 30, 2024 –  A research study by scientists at Duke University Medical Center uncovered activities of a target, called Ranbp2 that remodel the expression of chaperones in neuronal tissues prone to photo-damage and accelerated aging. The work of researchers led by Dr. Paulo Ferreira at Duke indicates that the remodeling of a network of chaperones by Ranbp2 preordains the protection of certain cells and tissues against noxious stressors, which compromise neuronal function and survival.

Chaperones belong to a family of diverse proteins, which play essential but complementary roles in maintaining the homeostasis of proteins in cells. Chaperones prevent the malfunctioning, damage, clumping, and deposits of proteins by associating with substrates and by promoting their stability. Chaperones also facilitate the proper degradation (turnover) of proteins. Impairment of protein homeostasis that causes protein deposits is a hallmark feature of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, and other diseases. Notably, aging also subdues the induction of chaperones. This outcome is thought to compromise cellular fitness and how cells cope against a wide spectrum of environmental stressors.

The researchers at Duke found that loss of a foldase activity linked to Ranbp2 induces the robust up-regulation of a subset of chaperones, called Crystallins. In addition, they found that the induction of Crystallins leads to a decline of proteins targeted for degradation with aging. Crystallins are conspicuously soluble, and they provide lifelong transparency and structural stability to the lens of the eye, where they predominate. Photodamage of the lens Crystallins leads to cataracts and vision impairment with aging.

The current findings uncover novel approaches for targeting therapeutically selective activities of Ranbp2 to enable the induction of critical chaperones and to promote cellular fitness. The research work indicates that the chaperones, Crystallins, will enhance the protection of the retina and RPE from damage, and improper degradation and clumping of proteins triggered by photo-oxidative stressors. These effects of Crystallins’ induction are anticipated to prevent or to delay the onset and progression of malfunction and degeneration of these tissues, and thereby preserve vision.

About Duke Department of Pathology

The Department of Pathology is a critical core service in the nationally-recognized Duke Health Systems and School of Medicine, serving three hospitals, community practices, and the Durham VA Hospital.

About Duke Department of Ophthalmology

Duke Eye Center is an internationally-renowned academic medical institution dedicated to curing eye disease worldwide though excellence in research, education, and patient care. Specializing in all areas of ophthalmology, it is a top ranked program by the US News and World Report Best Hospitals survey since the survey began over 30 years ago.