One molecule makes nerve cells grow longer. Another one makes them grow branches. These new experimental manipulations have taken researchers a step closer to understanding how nerve cells are repaired at their farthest reaches after injury. The research was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
“If you injure a peripheral nerve, it will spontaneously regenerate, but it goes very slowly. We’re trying to speed that up,” said Dr. Jeffery Twiss, a professor and head of the biology department at Drexel University in the College of Arts and Sciences, who was senior author of the paper.
But, Twiss said, scientists still have a lot to learn about how nerve cells repair themselves. He and his colleagues are especially interested in how nerve cells are repaired in their longest-reaching sections, their axons. Axons can be up to a meter long in adult human nerve cells, extending away from the cell body toward neighboring nerve cells, with which they exchange signals. Restoring length to damaged axons is essential to restoring nerve function, but coordinating these repairs at a great distance from the cell’s nucleus involves a mix of complex processes within each cell. To gain insight into these processes, they have focused research, including the present study, on repair proteins that are created locally near an injury site in a nerve’s axon.