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In a Break with Dogma, Myelin Boosts Neuron Growth in Spinal Cord Injuries

The molecule inhibits adult axon regeneration, but appears to stimulate young neurons by Scott LaFee

Recovery after severe spinal cord injury is notoriously fraught, with permanent paralysis often the result. In recent years, researchers have increasingly turned to stem cell-based therapies as a potential method for repairing and replacing damaged nerve cells. They have struggled, however, to overcome numerous innate barriers, including myelin, a mixture of insulating proteins and lipids that helps speed impulses through adult nerve fibers but also inhibits neuronal growth.

But in a new paper, published in the May 23 online issue of Science Translational Medicine, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that adult rat myelin actually stimulated axonal outgrowth in rat neural precursor cells (NPCs) and human induced pluripotent (iPSC)-derived neural stem cells (NSCs).

Dr. Mark Tuszynski Professor of neuroscience and director of the UC San Diego Translational Neuroscience Institute

“It’s really a remarkable finding because myelin is known to be a potent inhibitor of adult axon regeneration,” said Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience and director of the UC San Diego Translational Neuroscience Institute. “But that isn’t the case with precursor neurons or those derived from stem cells.”

Neuroscience News Article