Neuroprotective mechanism of connexin43

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in North America affecting about 16,000 Canadians each year. This disease causes a sudden loss of blood to an area of the brain typically due to blocked or ruptured blood vessels. Michael Kozoriz is studying how to reduce brain damage caused by stroke. The brain has two classes of cells – nerve cells (neurons) and glial cells. Neurons conduct electrical impulses, while glia surround, support and protect neurons. Glia are the most abundant cells in the central nervous system and are connected by a junction made of a protein called connexin43. Because these cells are physically attached they have the ability to share various molecules and nutrients. Studies have shown that stroke damage is less severe in the presence of connexin43, and damage is greater if the protein is absent. Michael is examining how connexin43 protects cells from death. He suspects the junctions remain open during a stroke, allowing neighbouring cells to share nutrients, much like neighbours helping a friend in need. His findings could explain how to protect the brain during stroke, and ultimately, lead to better treatments for this disease.