The same family of chemical signals that attracts developing sensory nerves up the spinal cord toward the brain serves to repel motor nerves, sending them in the opposite direction, down the cord and away from the brain, report researchers at the University of Chicago in the September 2005 issue of Nature Neuroscience (available online August 14). The finding may help physicians restore function to people with paralyzing spinal cord injuries.
Growing nerve cells send out axons, long narrow processes that search out and connect with other nerve cells. Axons are tipped with growth cones, bearing specific receptors, which detect chemical signals and then grow toward or away from the source.
In 2003, University of Chicago researchers reported that a gradient of biochemical signals known as the Wnt proteins acted as a guide for sensory nerves. These nerves have a receptor on the tips of their growth cones, known as Frizzled3, which responds to Wnts.
John Easton | EurekAlert!
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