A molecule that helps the bodys motor nerve cells grow along proper paths during embryonic development also plays a major role in inhibiting spinal-cord neurons from regenerating after injury, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found. In cultured cells, the researchers found that a component of myelin – a substance that normally insulates and stabilizes long nerve fibers in adult vertebrates – chemically blocks the ability of nerve cells to grow through myelin that is released when the spinal cord is damaged. While other myelin components also block nerve growth, a component called ephrin-B3 inhibits such activity as well or better than that of other known blocking agents combined, UT Southwestern researchers report in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"I believe that to the extent that overcoming myelin-based inhibition is going to provide some sort of functional recovery for spinal cord injury patients, understanding ephrins is a major step forward," said Dr. Luis Parada, senior author on the paper and director of the Center for Developmental Biology and the Kent Waldrep Center for Basic Research on Nerve Growth and Regeneration at UT Southwestern. A mixture of molecules and proteins, myelin insulates nerve fibers and impedes them from having contact with other nerve cells. After a spinal-cord injury, myelin is released into the tissues. Not only does myelin encourage the growth of scars – called glial scars – which physically block nerve cells from regrowing in the damaged area, but components of myelin also chemically prevent nerve cells from regrowing there as well.
Considerable research has been done in the past 10 years to identify elements in myelin that chemically inhibit the regeneration of nerve cells, Dr. Parada said. Three individual components – the molecules Nogo, MAG and OMgp – have been shown to do so in isolation. Developmental biologists at UT Southwestern have been studying how ephrin-B3 helps control how and where nerve fibers grow during early development. They previously showed that the molecule throws up "fences" that repel developing nerves and guide them along the pathways to their appropriate connections to muscles.
Amanda Siegfried | EurekAlert!
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