Pulse 97: Irisin May Promote Neuronal Growth

11 February 2019
Giulio Prisco
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New research has found that a hormone called irisin (see below), which is released into the circulation during physical activity, may promote neuronal growth in the brain's hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory.

"This raised the possibility that irisin may help explain why physical activity improves memory and seems to play a protective role in brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease," says research co-leader Ottavio Arancio, a professor at Columbia University. The scientists are now searching for pharmaceutical compounds that can increase brain levels of the hormone or can mimic its action.

"In the meantime, I would certainly encourage everyone to exercise, to promote brain function and overall health," added Arancio. "But that's not possible for many people, especially those with age-related conditions like heart disease, arthritis, or dementia. For those individuals, there's a particular need for drugs that can mimic the effects of irisin and protect synapses and prevent cognitive decline."

Irisin hormone protects mice against Alzheimer's disease. Scientists at Columbia University have found that a hormone called irisin, produced during exercise, may protect neurons against Alzheimer's disease. Experiments with laboratory mice, described in a study published in Nature Medicine, show that irisin protects the brain's synapses and the animals' memory. When irisin was disabled in the hippocampus of healthy mice, synapses and memory weakened. Similarly, boosting brain levels of irisin improved both measures of brain health.

Soil bacteria produce key compound used to fight cancer. Researchers at Harvard University have discovered how bacteria found in soil are able to manufacture streptozotocin, an antibiotic compound that is also an important treatment for certain types of pancreatic cancer. What makes the compound effective against cancer is a chemical structure known as a nitrosamine  A study published in Nature shows that the compound is produced through an enzymatic pathway and revealing the novel chemistry that drives the process. The work shows that biology evolved a specific pathway, very different from the methods used in the lab, for manufacturing nitrosamines.

A dexterous, sensing prosthetic hand usable in real life. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and Integrum AB have developed a clinically viable, dexterous and sensing prosthetic hand usable in real life. The work is part of the European project DeTOP. A Swedish patient with hand amputation has become the first recipient of an osseo-neuromuscular implant to control a dexterous hand prosthesis. A video shows how titanium implants were surgically placed in the two forearm bones (radius and ulnar), from which electrodes to nerves and muscle were extended to extract signals to control a robotic hand and to provide tactile sensations.

New neuromorphic device based on organic transistors mimics the human brain. Scientists at Linköping University have developed a new transistor, based on organic materials, which has the ability to learn, and is equipped with both short-term and long-term memory. The new transistor, described in a research paper published in Advanced Science, can create a new physical connection between an input and an output. According to the researchers, this is the first time that real time formation of new electronic components is shown in neuromorphic devices, and the work is a major step on the way to creating technology that mimics the human brain.

Shining light on iridium compound kills cancer cells in the lab. Researchers at University of Warwick have found that a new compound based on Iridium, a rare metal, hooked onto albumin, a protein in blood, can attack the nucleus of cancerous cells when switched on by light. A study published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition shows that albumin is able to deliver the new compound into the nucleus inside cancer cells. The dormant compound can then be switched on by light irradiation and destroy the cancer cells from their very center.

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