A whole new way to treat paralysis.

Scientists have figured out how to make nerve fibres repair themselves in mice, having identified a gene that inhibits fibre regrowth when nerve connections become damaged.

This gene, called Cacna2d2, acts as ‘molecular brake’, but now that we know how to turn the brake off, it could help us to develop treatments for conditions like paralysis and other spinal cord injuries.

A team from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) began their research with the hypothesis that such a molecular brake naturally exists – something that stops neurons growing when we become adults and our bodies are fully formed.

But finding such a mechanism was like “looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack”, according to lead researcher Frank Bradke.

By using a data-crunching approach called bioinformatics – where computers analyse and interpret biological information – the team eventually zeroed in on the gene they were looking for.

“Ultimately, we were able to identify a promising candidate,” says Bradke. “This gene, known as Cacna2d2, plays an important role in synapse formation and function, in other words in bridging the final gap between nerve cells.”

Cacna2d2 acts as a blueprint for a protein that regulates the flow of calcium particles into cells – and calcium levels in turn affect the release of neurotransmitters, which are like messengers that travel across the synapses.

But the same mechanism is also what appears to inhibit bridges call between neurons – called axons – from growing.

Image credit: UCI Research/Flickr
Article via: Science Alert