Recovery from spinal cord injury seen in mice when scarring is minimized

PHILADELPHIA - Severe injury to the spinal cord can lead to devastating loss of function, and subsequent recovery is often minimal. Accordingly, the factors that inhibit recovery have been a major research focus in recent years. Might there be ways to promote regeneration of the cells in the spinal cord or otherwise encourage a restoration of function following injury?

A new study conducted in mice by researchers at The Wistar Institute suggests that the key to recovery from severe spinal-cord injury may lie in limiting the scarring process that generally follows such an injury, rather than in an enhanced regenerative capacity.

In mice where the ability of inflammatory cells to reach the injury site was physically limited, the formation of scar tissue at the site was also limited, the scientists found in their experiments. Without the physical barrier of scar tissue to impede their progress, neurons on both sides of the injury site were able to grow and reestablish connections with each other over a period of two to three weeks, leading to substantial recovery of function. A report on the study appears in the February 1 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research.

"The problem in recovery from spinal-cord injury appears to be the scar tissue that forms in response to injury," says Ellen Heber-Katz, Ph.D., a professor at The Wistar Institute and senior author on the study. "The scar eliminates the ability of neurons to regrow their axons across the injury site. It's an absolute physical block. We found, however, that if you prevent the scar tissue from forming, the mice recover from their injuries."

The findings show that physically preventing scar tissue from forming can open the way for recovery from spinal-cord injury, according the Heber-Katz.

More clinically relevant, perhaps, is that the research also suggests that drugs able to biochemically block scar-tissue formation immediately following such an injury might have

Contact: Franklin Hoke
The Wistar Institute

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