CLEVELAND, OH – A new study in Nature Communications shows progress in restoring breathing and limb function in animals with spinal cord injuries. “For the first time we have permanently restored both breathing and some arm function in a form of high cervical, chronic spinal cord injury-induced paralysis. The complete recovery, especially of breathing, occurs rapidly after a near lifetime of paralysis in a rodent model,” says senior author Jerry Silver, PhD, professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
According to a summary in Newswise, the new study describes a treatment regimen that “helps reawaken certain special types of nerve cells that can regenerate extensions, called axons, within the damaged spinal cord. Rats with spinal cords half severed at the second cervical vertebrae (C2) regained complete diaphragm and partial forelimb function on the severed side after treatment. The recuperative effects of the therapy were fully maintained six months after treatment end.”
Specifically, the treatment leverages the body’s innate ability to very slowly sprout new axon branches from a sub-population of nerve cells that remain intact below the injury. The activity of these new branches is completely stifled by a family of potently inhibitory molecules called proteoglycans.
Said Silver: “The strategy was to use a simple, one-time injection of an enzyme, chondroitinase, that breaks down the inhibitory proteoglycan molecules. The enzyme was administered, not within the lesion itself, but lower down within the spinal cord where motor nerve cells reside that send axons out to the diaphragm and forearm.”
See Full Article: Warren PM, et al. “Rapid and robust restoration of breathing long after spinal cord injury.” Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06937-0.