MONTREAL, Nov. 21, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - A team of IRCM researchers, led
by Dr. Frédéric Charron, recently uncovered a nerve cell's internal
clock, used during embryonic development. The discovery was made in
collaboration with Dr. Alyson Fournier's laboratory at the Montreal
Neurological Institute. Published today in the prestigious scientific
journal Neuron, this breakthrough could lead to the development of new tools to repair
and regenerate nerve cells following injuries to the central nervous
Researchers in Dr. Charron's laboratory study neurons, which are the
nerve cells that make up the central nervous system (brain and spinal
cord). They want to better understand how neurons navigate through the
developing embryo to arrive at their correct destination.
"To properly form neural circuits, developing axons (long extensions of
neurons that form nerves) follow external signals to reach the right
targets," says Dr. Frédéric Charron, Director of the Molecular Biology
of Neural Development research unit at the IRCM. "We discovered that
nerve cells also have an internal clock, which changes their response
to external signals as they develop over time."
For this research project, IRCM scientists focused on the Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) protein, which gives cells important information for the embryo to
develop properly and plays a critical role in the development of the
central nervous system.
"It is known that axons follow the Shh signal during their development,"
explains Dr. Patricia Yam, research associate in Dr. Charron's
laboratory and first author of the study. "However, axons change their
behaviour once they reach this protein, and this has been a mystery for
the scientific community. We found that a nerve cell's internal clock
switches its response to external signals when it reaches the Shh
protein, at which time it becomes repelled by the Shh signal rather
than following it."
"Our findings therefore showed that more than one system is involved in
directing axon pathfinding during development," adds Dr. Yam. "Not only
do nerve cells respond to external signals, but they also have an
internal control system. This discovery is important because it offers
new possibilities for developing techniques to regenerate and repair
damaged nerve cells. Along with trying to modify external factors, we
can now also consider modifying elements inside a cell in order to
change its behaviour."
Injuries to the central nervous system affect thousands of Canadians
every year, and can lead to lifelong disabilities. Most often caused by
an accident, stroke or disease, these injuries are very difficult to
repair. New tools are therefore required to repair damage to the
central nervous system, including techniques that could potentially
regenerate nerve cells.
"The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is delighted to support
research aimed at improving the lives of individuals with damage to the
brain or spinal cord," says Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director
of CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction.
''Nerve cell repair and regeneration remains an important health
challenge, and we believe that Dr. Charron's research findings will
contribute to the solution."
About the research project
This research project was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes
of Health Research (CIHR), the Peter Lougheed Medical Research
Foundation, the McGill Program in NeuroEngineering and the Fonds de
recherche de Québec - Santé (FRQS). The article published in Neuron was a collaborative project between Dr. Charron's team and Dr. Alyson
Fournier's laboratory at the Montreal Neurological Institute
(Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery). Collaborators from the IRCM
include Steves Morin, W. Todd Farmer and Léa Lepelletier.
For more information on this scientific breakthrough, please refer to
the article summary published online by Neuron: www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(12)00852-5.
About Dr. Frédéric Charron
Frédéric Charron obtained his PhD in experimental medicine from McGill
University. He is an Associate IRCM Research Professor and Director of
the Molecular Biology of Neural Development research unit. Dr. Charron
is also Associate Professor-Researcher in the Department of Medicine at
the Université de Montréal, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of
Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), the Department of
Biology, and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill
University. In addition, he is a member of the McGill Integrated
Program in Neuroscience, the Montreal Regional Brain Tumor Research
Group at the Montreal Neurological Institute, and the Centre of
Excellence in Neurosciences (CENUM) at the Université de Montréal. Dr.
Charron is a Research Scholar from the Fonds de recherche du Québec -
Santé (FRQS). For more information, visit www.ircm.qc.ca/charron.
About the IRCM
Founded in 1967, the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)
(www.ircm.qc.ca) is currently comprised of 37 research units in various fields, namely
immunity and viral infections, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,
cancer, neurobiology and development, systems biology and medicinal
chemistry. It also houses three specialized research clinics, eight
core facilities and three research platforms with state-of-the-art
equipment. The IRCM employs 425 people and is an independent
institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. The IRCM clinic
is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal
(CHUM). The IRCM also maintains a long-standing association with McGill
About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
CIHR is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency.
CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and enable its
translation into better health, more effective health services and
products, and a stronger Canadian health care system. Composed of
13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than
14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada.
SOURCE: Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
For further information:
For more information and to schedule an interview with Dr. Charron, please contact:
Communications Officer (IRCM)
Communications Director (IRCM)