Pushing neurons’ physiological limits provides researchers with new ways to repair nerve damage
Sometimes it is the extremes that point the way forward. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have induced nerve fibers – or axons – to grow at rates and lengths far exceeding what has been previously observed. To mimic extreme examples in nature and learn more about neuronal physiology, they have mechanically stretched axons at rates of eight millimeters per day, reaching lengths of up to ten centimeters without breaking. This new work has implications for spinal cord and nerve-damage therapy, since longer implantable axons are necessary for this type of repair.
In the present study, the team, led by Douglas H. Smith, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair, placed neurons from rat dorsal root ganglia (clusters of nerves just outside the spinal cord) on nutrient- filled plastic plates. Axons sprouted from the neurons on each plate and connected with neurons on the other plate. The plates were then slowly pulled apart over a series of days, aided by a precise computer-controlled motor system. "By rapid and continuous stretching, we end up with huge bundles of axons that are visible to the eye," says Smith. The axons started at an invisible 100 microns and have been stretched to 10 centimeters in less than two weeks. Smith and colleagues report their findings in the cover story of the September 8, 2004 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Karen Kreeger | EurekAlert!
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