Journal of Neuroscience: An active substance for neural regeneration from an old medicinal plant

Neuropathies frequently develop as a consequence of trauma, side effects of chemotherapy or due to other diseases, such as diabetes mellitus. They manifest as partly severe dysaesthesia, disturbed motor function or chronic pain. For affected patients, neuropathic disorders are a marked burden associated with a severely impaired quality of life. Very often, current treatments can only help to halt the progression of the disease.

One of the key processes in this problem is the slow regeneration of nerve fibres following an injury. The team of neuroscientists led by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Fischer has now established that mice with a genetically modified enzyme recovered noticeably faster and better following nerve injuries than regular animals. The researchers identified the underlying molecular mechanism and looked for substances to imitate this effect. During their research they discovered the active substance parthenolide, which is found in the medicinal plant „feverfew“. The plant is native to Central Europe and was traditionally used as drug to treat migraines.

Cell culture experiments have shown that parthenolide considerably accelerates the regrowth of nerve fibres (axons). Upon making this discovery, they treated mice with damaged sciatic nerves with the substance and observed that the animals were able to move the toes that had been paralysed by an injury and perceived sensory stimuli markedly sooner than their untreated counterparts. It is noticeable that the systemic administration of parthenolide was also effective. This is very promising for a possible clinical application in humans with neural disorders resulting from disease or injury, as even today there are no drugs available in clinical practice that have a similar effect. „This therapeutic approach is completely novel. However, other studies will still have to be carried out before it can be developed to a usable drug“, according to Prof. Dr. Dietmar Fischer. Whether parthenolide can also have a positive impact on the regeneration of the injured spinal cord or optic nerve, which are usually not able to regenerate at all, is currently also being studied by the Düsseldorf-based researchers.

Original publication: Journal of Neuroscience Gobrecht et al., 2016, Promotion of Functional Nerve Regeneration by Inhibition of Microtubule Detyrosination

Contact: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Fischer, Head of the Department of Experimental Neurology, Hospital of Neurology, Düsseldorf University Hospital, tel.: 0211 302039237,

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