Cut Nerve Fibers Are Repaired In An Animal Model of Spinal Cord Injury; May Help Repair Nerve Damage In Humans

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 1 -- Scientists have found success in animals with a promising new way to rejoin severed nerves quickly.

"The technique rejoins the cut or crushed ends of severed central and peripheral nerve cells so that the repaired cells again conduct electrical signals through the severed area within seconds to minutes after they are rejoined," says George Bittner, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system (PNS) includes nerves found in the rest of the body.

Several hundred thousand central and peripheral nervous system injuries occur annually in the United States, primarily due to trauma and stroke. There is currently no technique in humans or other mammals which can repair severed nerves in the brain or spinal cord or speed up the repair of severed peripheral nerves.

"The technique opens up a completely novel approach to restoring physiological continuity in the injured nervous system," says Michael Selzer, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bittner's study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, is published in the April 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Nerve cells possess axons, extensions that transmit electrical signals over long distances in the body. When these biological transmission lines are cut, their electrical signals can no longer be transmitted. Nerve cells in mammals, including humans, usually cannot regenerate axons that are severed in the CNS. At present, the functions once controlled by those axons cannot be restored. Severed PNS axons regenerate very slowly, about one millimeter or 1/25th of an inch per day.

In the new study, Bittner and his colleagues applied a calcium-free solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG) for one to two minutes to the cut ends of severed axons. PEG causes the cell membrane

Contact: George Bittner, Ph.D.
Society for Neuroscience

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