Study: Spinal cord can repair itself

February 14, 2007

U.S. scientists say they have disproved the long-held theory that the spinal cord is incapable of repairing itself. The Johns Hopkins University researchers say human nerve stem cells they transplanted into damaged spinal cords of rats have survived, grown and in some cases connected with the rats' own spinal cord cells.

Human nerve stem cells transplanted into rats’ damaged spinal cords have survived, grown and in some cases connected with the rats’ own spinal cord cells in a Johns Hopkins laboratory, overturning the long-held notion that spinal cords won’t allow nerve repair.

A report on the experiments will be published online this week at PLoS Medicine and “establishes a new doctrine for regenerative neuroscience,” says Vassilis Koliatsos, M.D., associate professor of neuropathology at Johns Hopkins. “The spinal cord, a part of the nervous system that is thought of as incapable of repairing itself, can support the development of transplanted cells,” he added.

“We don’t yet know whether the connections we’ve seen can transmit nerve signals to the degree that a rat could be made to walk again,” says Koliatsos, “We’re still in the proof of concept stage, but we’re making progress and we’re encouraged.”

In their experiments, the scientists gave anesthetized rats a range of spinal cord injuries to lesion or kill motor neurons or performed sham surgeries. They varied experimental conditions to see if the presence or absence of spinal cord lesions had an effect on the survival and maturation of human stem cell grafts. Two weeks after lesion or sham surgery, they injected human neural stem cells into the left side of each rat’s spinal cord.

After six months, the team found more than three times the number of human cells than they injected in the damaged cords, meaning the transplanted cells not only survived but divided at least twice to form more cells. Moreover, says Koliatsos, the cells not only grew in the area around the original injection, but also migrated over a much larger spinal cord territory.

Three months after injection, the researchers found evidence that some of the transplanted cells developed into support cells rather than nerve cells, while the majority became mature nerve cells. High-powered microscopic examination showed that these nerve cells appear to have made contacts with the rat’s own spinal cord cells.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Explore further: Stem cell therapy heals injured mouse brain

Related Stories

A clear view of the nervous system

August 22, 2016

A new and versatile imaging technique enables researchers to trace the trajectories of whole nerve cells and provides extensive insights into the structure of neuronal networks.

Do opioids make pain worse?

July 29, 2016

The opium poppy is arguably the oldest painkiller known to man, with its use being described by the ancient civilizations. Opium mimics the body's home-made painkillers—endorphins and the like—and has given rise to the ...

Origin of the long body of snakes discovered

August 8, 2016

For many years, researchers have been trying to understand the origin of the exceptionally long trunks that characterize the body of snakes. This is a mystery in terms of animal development that can shed light on the mechanisms ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.