Research Report: UCSD team finds genes that repair nerves

By Lynne Friedmann

Biologists at UCSD have identified more than 70 genes that play a role in regenerating nerves after injury, providing biomedical researchers with a set of genetic leads that one day may result in therapies to repair spinal cord injuries and other common kinds of nerve damage such as stroke.

The work involved a two-year investigation of 654 genes suspected to be involved in regulating the growth of axons — the thread-like extensions of nerve cells that transmit electrical impulses to other nerve cells. From this large-scale genetic screen, 70 genes were identified that promote axon growth after injury and six more genes that repress the re-growth of axons.

Of particular interest to the biologists are the six genes that appear to repress the growth of axons; because identifying and eliminating the inhibiting factors to the re-growth of axons could be just as essential as the biochemical pathways that promote axon re-growth in repairing spinal cord injuries and other kinds of nerve damage.

The research was a collaborative effort with researchers from the University of Oregon. Findings appear in the journal Neuron. News release at

Sequencing microrganisms

Scientists from UCSD, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Illumina Inc. have developed a new method to sequence and analyze the genomes of thousands of bacteria species previously beyond scientists’ reach, from microorganisms that produce antibiotics and biofuels to microbes living in the human body.

The technique employs an algorithm that improves the performance of software used to sequence DNA. This will enable researchers to assemble virtually complete genomes from DNA extracted from a single bacterial cell. By contrast, traditional sequencing methods require at least a billion identical cells, grown in cultures in the lab. The study opens the door to the sequencing of bacteria that cannot be cultured — the lion’s share of bacterial species living on the planet.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Biotechnology. News release at

Responding to flu virus

Influenza and other viruses destroy the cells that line the alveoli (tiny air sacs) that exchange gases in the lung. In response, the body generates cytokines (small cell-signaling protein molecules) and brings in a variety of immune cells in an attempt to limit infection. Normally, the production of cytokines is kept in check by the body, but in some cases cytokine production goes into overdrive and results in a severe immune reaction (“cytokine storm”) that can lead to more severe illness or death.

In a new study, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have found that the damaging effects of cytokine storm are distinct from the impact of virus replication and pathological changes in infected cells. Cytokine storms are believed to have played a major role in the 1918-19 worldwide influenza pandemic, as well as in the more recent swine flu and bird flu outbreaks.

Findings appear in the journal Cell. News release at