, Volume 116, Issue 8, pp 953-974
Date: 19 Nov 2008

Common key-signals in learning and neurodegeneration: focus on excito-amino acids, β-amyloid peptides and α-synuclein

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In this paper a hypothesis that some special signals (“key-signals” excito-amino acids, β-amyloid peptides and α-synuclein) are not only involved in information handling by the neuronal circuits, but also trigger out substantial structural and/or functional changes in the Central Nervous System (CNS) is introduced. This forces the neuronal circuits to move from one stable state towards a new state, but in doing so these signals became potentially dangerous. Several mechanisms are put in action to protect neurons and glial cells from these potentially harmful signals. However, in agreement with the Red Queen Theory of Ageing (Agnati et al. in Acta Physiol Scand 145:301–309, 1992), it is proposed that during ageing these neuroprotective processes become less effective while, in the meantime, a shortage of brain plasticity occurs together with an increased need of plasticity for repairing the wear and tear of the CNS. The paper presents findings supporting the concept that such key-signals in instances such as ageing may favour neurodegenerative processes in an attempt of maximizing neuronal plasticity.

To our Colleagues Prof. Alessandro Cavalleri, Giuseppe Scalera and Luciano Mavilla: with the greatest courage faced their disease attending to their duties until the last days of their industrious life.