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Researchers Restore Critical Function in Animal Models after Paralysis

Regaining functionality 'relatively easy'

A breakthrough study published in Nature Communications has demonstrated, that long-term, devastating effects of spinal cord trauma on breathing and limb function may be reversible.

"For the first time we have permanently restored both breathing and some arm function in a form of high cervical, chronic spinal cord injury-induced paralysis. The complete recovery, especially of breathing, occurs rapidly after a near lifetime of paralysis in a rodent model," says senior author Jerry Silver, PhD, professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

The treatment, used solely in animal models thus far, is able to leverage the body's innate ability to very slowly sprout new axon branches from a sub-population of nerve cells that remain intact below the injury.

"The strategy was to use a simple, one-time injection of an enzyme, chondroitinase, that breaks down the inhibitory proteoglycan molecules. The enzyme was administered, not within the lesion itself, but lower down within the spinal cord where motor nerve cells reside that send axons out to the diaphragm and forearm," said Silver.

The longer the animals had been paralyzed, the greater were the restorative effects of the enzyme. Silver's team found that even after an unprecedented year and a half following spinal cord injury, the treatment could recover full activity to rat diaphragms. One week after treatment, 60 percent of the animals had improved diaphragm function. Two weeks later, every rat showed improvement, even though their paralysis had lasted most of their lives.

"Our data illustrate the relative ease with which an essential motor system can regain functionality months to years after severe spinal cord injury," says Silver.

SOURCES: Newsline, Case Western Reserve University


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