A molecule family hinders spinal cord regeneration, UF brain institute team finds

GAINESVILLE---Nerve tissue transplants are among the promising experimental therapies to restore communication among cells in injured spinal cords, but scientists long have wondered why the transplanted cells don't grow more vigorously, thereby enhancing the level of recovery.

Now experiments in rats at the University of Florida Brain Institute suggest a possible explanation and a potential target for therapeutic intervention: Researchers suspect that in the days following a transplant, a particular family of molecules forms a barrier that prevents many nerve fiber connections from growing.

The molecules, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, or CSPGs, consist of a protein core surrounded by sugars arranged like bristles on a bottle brush; they occur naturally throughout the body. During development, CSPGs are thought to play a vital role by forming boundaries that guide migrating cells to appropriate destinations.

But following an injury, their levels increase so substantially that their growth-regulating function appears to contribute to a failure of the nerve cells to regenerate, according to research published in this month's issue of the journal Experimental Neurology.

The new study expands on previous research indicating increased levels of CSPGs following head and spinal cord injury. Unlike earlier research, however, the UF experiments involved animals with compression-type injuries, which are considered to closely mimic the damage typically experienced by people.

The UF experiments also were the first to look at CSPG expression in cellular transplants.

"We were very surprised to see that the CSPGs increased rapidly, not only in the host around the transplant, but in the transplanted tissue itself," said Dena R. Howland, a research assistant professor of neuroscience in UF's College of medicine and one of the paper's authors. "This increase appears to create a wall of molecules known to be associated with limiting growth.


Contact: Victoria White
University of Florida

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