George Carnes, 719-262-3648

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO Researchers have discovered a cellular pathway that promotes the repair of damaged nerve tissue.

In an article published in the February issue of Nature Cell Biology, the research team, led by Julie Desbarats and M. Karen Newell, details evidence that the Fas receptor plays a key role in inducing neurite growth after nerve injury. Fas, also known as CD95, had been shown previously to induce cell death in certain immune response scenarios, but this new study discusses the receptor’s role in delivering growth stimulation signals.

“Although our research is preliminary, we believe that using this knowledge may help to develop new approaches for treating stroke, spinal cord injury and neuronal degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases,” said Newell, associate professor of biology and scientific director of the Institute of Bioenergetics at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Using a variety of methods, including the use of mice, cell cultures and flow cytometry, the research team showed that crosslinking Fas on primary sensory neurons induces the regeneration of axons or nerve fibers that transmit brain signals. The Fas receptor affects the release of substances that signal cells to grow new extensions.

Fas promoted new axon growth from neurons and accelerated nerve injury recovery in mice. Moreover, the researchers showed that recovery was delayed in Fas-deficient mice.

“More research is needed to determine specifically how Fas-induced nerve regeneration is occurring,” Newell said.

In January, CU-Colorado Springs opened the new Institute of Bioenergetics to test Newell’s energy-immune response model across scientific disciplines.

In addition to her research, Newell teaches graduate and undergraduate science courses at CU-Colorado Springs. She is also associate director of the Center for Computational Biology and an adjunct member of the Webb Waring Institute based at the CU Health Sciences Center. Previously, Newell was an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Vermont and an assistant professor at the CU Health Sciences Center.

Desbarats, currently an assistant professor of physiology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, worked with Newell as a research associate at CU-Colorado Springs.

Collaborating scientists and authors of the Nature Cell Biology article also include: Manuelle Mimouni-Rongy and Jean-Sebastien Palerme, with McGill University; Raymond B. Birge, with the Rockefeller University; and David Weinstein, with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Funding for the Fas-related research was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

CU-Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in northeast Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The university offers 25 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s and two doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls more than 7,400 students annually.