Laser scalpel opens way for nerve regeneration studies in worms

Using a precisely targeted laser, researchers have snipped apart a single neuron in the roundworm C. elegans -- an achievement that opens a new avenue for studying nerve regeneration in this genetically manipulable animal. Indeed, their initial studies have demonstrated that the severed nerves of worms are capable of regenerating and regaining full function. According to the researchers, studying nerve regeneration in the worm could provide answers to questions that are not accessible currently by doing experiments in more complex animals, including mice and zebrafish. A research team that included Yishi Jin, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Andrew Chisholm, also of UCSC, and Adela Ben-Yakar, who was at Stanford University and is now at the University of Texas at Austin, reported its achievement in the December 16, 2004, issue of the journal Nature. Other co-authors are from Stanford University and UCSC.

The researchers used a laser that produces energy pulses of 200-quadrillionths of a second in a beam focused to less than one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair. The laser can vaporize tissue precisely without causing extensive heat or damage that would compromise the viability of the targeted cell or surrounding tissue, said the researchers.

"This new capability of cutting individual nerves offers the opportunity to use the well-characterized genetics of C. elegans to study the basic mechanisms of nerve regeneration," said Jin. "Until now there has been little study of nerve regeneration using genetic methodology, because most studies have been done on higher vertebrate organisms, where following the consequences of genetic manipulation is not yet readily accessible." Such studies, said Jin, would involve making mutations in genes believed to be involved in nerve regeneration and study

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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