Research examines whether acute spinal cord injury therapies disrupt natural healing

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After growing up with two family members who had faced spinal cord injuries, Zoe Hesp wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with similar injuries. As an undergraduate at Miami University she studied neuroscience, but it wasn’t until she spent a summer doing research with Dana McTigue, PhD, at the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, that she finally got the opportunity to focus on repair mechanisms within the spinal cord. “I was disappointed that I couldn’t do that work sooner,” she says.

As a graduate student in Dr. McTigue’s laboratory, Hesp has studied the remyelination of axons after spinal cord injury. Scientists have known that progenitor cells can produce new oligodendrocytes—the cells that remyelinate axons— immediately after an injury. As a result, some experimental therapies have focused on transplanting progenitor cells to jumpstart cellular repair.

“But nobody knew how long this natural oligodendrogenesis continued,” Hesp says. Hesp and her colleagues recently examined chronic remyelination mechanisms—those that occur in the weeks after injury—in rodents. They showed that natural progenitors continue to produce oligodendrocytes and remyelinate around injured tissue even 90 days after the initial injury.

“Right now most proposed treatments are focused on doing things as acutely as possible after injury, and we know that’s important,” she says. But their work suggests that the natural repair mechanisms within the spinal cord occur over a much longer period of time. “You have this chronically dynamic injury environment,” she says, “and without taking those factors into consideration, it’s possible that therapies could disrupt the repair mechanisms that happen on their own. And this work suggests new potential therapeutic targets that could be tested.”

Read the complete research article in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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