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Production of two proteins encourages spinal cord regeneration
By Bijal P. Trivedi

When the spinal cord is severed paralysis is usually instant and permanent. This is because adult neurons in the central nervous system have lost the ability to regenerate. But now researchers have shown that activation of two genes can foster spinal cord regeneration. The work offers hope that reintroducing these genes could help the central nervous system (CNS) repair itself.

It is known that injuries to peripheral nerves—nerves that transmit messages to and from the muscles, skin and organs—can activate genes that make nerves grow again. This is not the case for the neurons in the spinal cord or brain. But when a graft of a peripheral neuron is placed in the vicinity of a spinal nerve injury, growth genes stimulate the spinal nerves to regenerate.

When proteins GAP-43 and CAP-23 were activated in genetically engineered mice there was a 60-fold increase in the number of spinal neurons that showed regeneration in contrast to adult control mice in which these genes are turned off. These two genes are usually turned on at high levels during early development when the nervous system is forming. As the nervous system matures these genes are turned off. Together GAP-43 and CAP-23 mimic the effects of peripheral nerve grafts or injuries on the CNS. The research was led by Pate Skene of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina and is published in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience.

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Bomze, H. M. et al. Spinal axon regeneration evoked by replacing two growth cone proteins in adult neurons. Nat Neurosci 4, 38-43 (January 2001).

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