Controlling Nerve Injury Repair Revealed in New Study

Source: Monash University

Summary: Researchers have found signals that can control a mechanism by which severed nerves self-heal.

Nervous system injuries such as spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury can cause lifelong disabilities as our bodies are unable to repair themselves completely. Researchers are a step closer in solving the riddle of how nerves can self-heal. Researchers from Biomedicine Discovery Institute -Monash University have found signals that can control a mechanism by which severed nerves self-heal. They also described that this process can be genetically controlled. A simple but highly efficient repair process, “axonal fusion” is observed in nematode worm species which allows severed neurons to form a bridge across their damaged section and restore full function of the damaged nerves. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nerve injury self-heal

Monash University scientists are one step closer to solving the riddle of how nerves can self-heal. Credit: Monash University

The researchers used a laser beam to sever a single neuron in the 1mm long Caenorhabditis elegans (transparent nematode) and observed its regeneration and found the function of that neuron was restored within 48 hours. There are specific ‘save-me’ (phosphatidylserine) signals displayed on the surface of the damaged nerve which are recognized by the two ends of nerve and gets reconnected. Researchers described that a level of save-me signals are required for the process to happen and this was possible to manipulate this genetically. This study raised hopes for treating nerve injuries in humans in the future.

Dr.Neumann said, “Basically the ‘save-me’ signal is really controlling whether you can regrow nerves through this fully functional method of regeneration. It’s critical for the process,” and further added, “The nematode worm is ideal for research into nerve injury repair because it has a very simple nervous system and because the biological mechanisms involved are ‘conserved’ and similar to those in humans.”

The first author, Zehra Abay said, “Genetically we can boost the capacity of the neurons to actively mediate a response after injury, and if we do that we can get better rates of this axonal-fusion process.”

More Information: Zehra C. Abay et al, “Phosphatidylserine save-me signals drive functional recovery of severed axons in Caenorhabditis elegans”, PNAS (2017).

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