One of the great tragedies that goes along with spinal injury is paralysis. This happens because our damaged nerve cells can't fully regenerate. But what if we could unlock the key to neural rejuvenation? Now, a team of neuroscientists have discovered a gene in fruit flies - somewhat similar to a human gene - that controls how nerves re-establish links with each other after they've been severed. This could open up a new avenue of research into undoing the injuries that cause paralysis and other neurological disorders.
The team has published their work this week in Cell Reports. According to a release from Penn State University:
A gene that is associated with regeneration of injured nerve cells has been identified by scientists led by Melissa Rolls at Penn State University. The team, which includes scientists at Penn State and Duke University, has found that a mutation in a single gene can entirely shut down the process by which axons - the parts of the nerve cell that are responsible for sending signals to other cells - regrow themselves after being cut or damaged. This image illlustrates a finding of the research, which is that, in fruit flies with two normal copies of the spastin gene, Rolls and her team found that severed axons were able to regenerate. However, in fruit flies with two or even only one abnormal spastin gene, the severed axons were not able to regenerate. "We are hopeful that this discovery will open the door to new research related to spinal-cord and other neurological disorders in humans," Rolls said.
One day, when we fully understand the mechanisms underlying axon regeneration, it's possible we could induce nerve cells to regenerate by administering a drug that emulates the activity of the spastin gene.
You can read the scientific paper in Cell Reports.