Spinal cord injuries come with life-altering effects like loss of sensation, loss of movement, exaggerated reflexes or spasms and pain or intense stinging sensation. There are solutions to manage these conditions but no effective treatment yet, that could bring back the affected to complete normalcy. This is because once damaged, the axons in the nerve fibres of the spinal cord cannot regenerate and re-establish their connection with the brainstem.
But the scientists from Tufts University School of Medicine have found the elixir that can induce regeneration of damaged axons right till the brainstem. It’s called Artemin (ARTN), a naturally occurring growth factor that promotes long-distance growth of damaged axons in the spinal cord up to 3-4 cms away from their original target region in the brainstem.
To achieve this feat, scientists worked on crushed dorsal spines of lab rats. They treated it with ARTN and found that the sensory axons did grow till 1.5 inches – the longest that has been possible so far. Additionally, although ARTN was administered in the rats only for 2 weeks; the regeneration of the axon till the brainstem took 3 months suggesting that a brief trophic support may initiate intrinsic growth programs that remain active till the targets are achieved.
Finally, here comes the best part of this study – Artemin not only promotes long distance sensory axonal growth but also helps in re-establishing the original connection with the brainstem, just like it was before the spinal cord injury. This is incredible because axons are meant to deliver the sensory signals they carry to the right target in the brainstem for the right output.
And whenever the scientists tried to regenerate a functional sensory axon, it often ended in a disarrayed re-connection with the brainstem. But with the aid of ARTN, the sensory axons connected with the right spot in the brain automatically. Given its ability to promote targeted functional regeneration to the brainstem, ARTN may represent a promising therapy for restoring sensory function after spinal cord injury.
The original paper can be accessed here.