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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Patching Into the Spinal Cord
20 January 2000 6:00 pm
When treated with the right proteins, severed nerves will sink new roots into the spinal cord. In experiments described in today's Nature, rats regained their senses of heat and pressure in their injured paws, suggesting that the therapeutic proteins helped neurons recover the right connections.
A fingertip sewn back onto a hand will often regain feeling as nerves heal. But reconnecting sensory nerves to the spinal cord has proved difficult because the spinal cord beats back neurons that try to patch into it. Neuroscientist Matt Ramer and his co-workers at King's College and Queen Mary and Westfield College, both of the University of London, wondered whether doses of neurotrophic factors--proteins that help developing neurons grow, and mature ones stay healthy--might overcome the spinal cord's antipathy to healing neurons. "What we're trying to do," says Ramer, "is give the neurons a regenerative boost."
To give this a try, Ramer's team first crushed the threadlike nerves that connect the forelimbs to the spinal cord in rats. In some animals, the researchers injected neurotrophic factors near the damaged nerves. After 7 days, the researchers examined the healed nerves under a microscope and found regenerated neurons reaching into the cord. In the rats that did not receive the factors, neurons stopped at the cord's outer layer. Only in the treated rats did the reconnected nerves work: Electrical pulses applied to nerves in the paw zipped through to the spinal cord. And only the treated rats withdrew their paws when squeezed or heated.
The findings show that healing neurons can make the right connections to deliver meaningful signals to the brain, says John Steeves, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. "What's nice about this," he says, "is that it shows not only regeneration, but also functional recovery."