Genes That Aid Spinal Cord Healing in Lamprey Also Present in Humans

Source: Marine Biological Laboratory

Summary: According to a study by a collaborative group of researchers, many of the genes involved in natural repair of the injured spinal cord of the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals.

Lampreys are vertebrates, eel-like fish that shared a common ancestor with humans about 550 million years ago. They can fully recover from a severed spinal cord without medication or other treatment in just 10 to 12 weeks. Spinal cord injury (SCI) in mammals, results in dramatic losses in neurons and synaptic connections and thereby function. It is long known that lampreys undergo spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury but the molecular recipe which accompanies and supports this remarkable capacity is not known. A study done by the collaborative group of researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory and other institutions found that many of the genes involved in natural repair of the injured spinal cord of the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals. The study findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lampreys undergo spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury

Jennifer Morgan and Ona Bloom with juvenile lamprey in the MBL Whitman Center. Credit: Amanda R. Martinez

The researchers followed the lampreys’ healing process and took samples from the brains and spinal cords at multiple points in time, from the first hours after injury until 3 months later when they were healed. They analyzed the material to determine which genes and signaling pathways were activated as compared to a non-injured lamprey. They found many genes in the spinal cord that change over time with recovery. They also discovered a number of injury-induced gene expression changes in the brain which reinforces the idea that the brain changes a lot after a spinal cord injury. Further found that many of the genes associated with spinal cord healing are part of the Wnt signaling pathway, which plays a role in tissue development. Future research will explore why the Wnt pathway seems particularly important in the healing process.

Dr. Jennifer R. Morgan said, “We found a large overlap with the hub of transcription factors that are driving regeneration in the mammalian peripheral nervous system”, “[This study] involved several different labs located in different parts of the country with different types of expertise. “

More Information: Paige E. Herman et al, “Highly conserved molecular pathways, including Wnt signaling, promote functional recovery from spinal cord injury in lampreys”, Scientific Reports, 2018. DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-18757-1


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