Damage to nerves of the brain and spinal cord is particularly devastating because these nerves do not grow back on their own. Perhaps, suggests a Yale-led study, they could regrow with a little help from science.
Stephen Strittmatter, PhD, Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and chair and professor of neuroscience, and his team have identified a group of genes that act like switches for the growth or stasis of the axons along which neurons send messages.
Previously, the researchers had identified 400 candidate genes that, when switched off in mouse neurons grown in lab dishes, promoted the regeneration of axons.
In a study published in the journal Cell Reports, the researchers turned off every candidate gene in the eyes of a mouse, damaged the optic nerve to simulate glaucoma, and observed whether axons within the optic nerve grew back. For 40 of the genes, both knockdown and gene editing led to greater axon regeneration.
The researchers are now working to develop drugs that turn off or reduce activity of these genes to spur axon growth in people with glaucoma or spinal cord injury, Strittmatter says.