SCIENTISTS at the University of Portsmouth have been awarded £600,000 for research into diseases such as dementia and multiple sclerosis.
The team of biologists have identified the function of little known proteins which they believe could be fundamental in the ageing process and be responsible for cognitive decline.
They have found that a protein known as Kir4.1 is a key element in controlling special cells in the brain and spinal cord that form myelin, a substance which insulates the brain’s wiring.
They discovered that the protein is critical to ensuring that these cells, known as oligodendrocytes, function well.
Professor Arthur Butt, from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said: ‘These cells in the brain are generated at birth and during the first years of development. But they continue to be generated in the adult brain and are important for replacing cells lost during the normal ageing process.
‘We think that the brain slows down its production of these cells as it ages and this decreases the rate at which the brain repairs its white matter – important for cognitive function.’
The team’s research will focus on signals in the brain which stimulate the growth and regeneration of oligodendrocytes and myelin.
The results of the research could be used to develop experimental treatments for diseases of the brain and for MS.