Manipulating a single gene dramatically improves regeneration in adult neurons: Finding may lead to new approaches for treating brain and spinal cord damage

dditional genes produced levels of integrin in the adult neurons that were comparable to those in newborn animals. The neurons were cultured in conditions similar to those of the adult central nervous system. Dr. Condic then measured the amount of nerve fiber growth displayed by the adult neurons with extra integrin genes and compared it to the growth of neurons from newborn rats and of adult neurons that had received a non-integrin gene. She found that increasing the amount of either of the integrin proteins dramatically increased the amount of nerve fiber growth in the adult neurons. The increase in growth was more than ten times greater than that in any other published study of regeneration by adult neurons. The adult neurons with the extra integrin genes were able to extend nerve fibers profusely even when growth-inhibiting proteins were present in the culture. The amount of growth was indistinguishable from that of neurons from newborn animals.

The magnitude of the integrin proteins effects on the adult neurons was very surprising, Dr. Condic says. In the past, many scientists believed that the inherent limitations on growth of nerve fibers from adult neurons were too complex to be significantly affected by altering a few genes. In this study, however, the effect of increasing just one gene was striking. Its as though you have a 57 Chevy on blocks in the front yard, and it has all the necessary components except for its wheels, says Dr. Condic. If you give the wheels back, which are the cars usual way of interacting with the environment, its ready to go. Integrin proteins are like the tires of the car they connect with the surrounding surface to enable neurons to extend nerve fibers, she explains.

The finding complements studies of factors in the nervous system environment that improve regeneration. Effective therapies will probably employ a multi-pronged approach that alters environmental factors as well as the inherent propertie

Contact: Natalie Frazin
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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