Johns Hopkins scientists recently posited in a new study that the burning, tingling pain of neuropathy may affect feet and hands prior to other parts of the body because the powerhouses of nerve cells, called mitochondria, that supply the extremities age and become dysfunctional.* They hope this finding could lead to new ways to fight neuropathy, a condition that often accompanies other diseases including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and circulatory disorders.
Mitochondria for most cells in the body replace themselves every month or so, but mitochondria in nerve cells often live much longer to accommodate the sometimes long journey from where a cell starts growing to where it ends.
“Our mitochondria age as we age, and they have even longer to travel in tall people,” study leader Ahmet Hoke, MD, PhD, said. “In people who are older or taller, these mitochondria in the longest nerves are in even worse shape by the time they reach the feet.”
Hoke also noted that if this discovery is confirmed for other types of neuropathy, it could lead to mitochondria-specific ways to treat this condition. Ideally, doctors may be able to one day give a patient a drug that boosts the function of older mitochondria, thus boosting the performance of the nerve cells and reducing pain.