Thursday, 31 October 2013

Stem cell scarring actually aids in the recovery following a spinal cord injury

A new study by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden reveals that the scar tissue formed by stem cells after a spinal cord injury does not impair recovery as it was previously thought.

Instead, stem cell scarring confines the damage. The findings, published in the scientific journal Science, suggest that scar tissue prevents the lesion from expanding and helps injured nerve cells survive.

Spinal cord injuries sever nerve fibres that conduct signals between the brain and the rest of the body, causing various degrees of paralysis depending on the site and extent of the injury. Functional impairment is often permanent, since the cut nerve fibres do not grow back.

Up until now, the lack of regeneration was attributed to a blockage from scar tissue that forms at the lesion. It has therefore been suggested that the nerve fibres could regenerate and that recovery could improve if scar formation is inhibited, and many proposed therapeutic strategies have been designed around this concept.

In this study, the researchers focused on spinal cord neural stem cells, which are one of the main sources of the scar tissue formed after a spinal cord injury. They discovered that when blocking scar formation by preventing the stem cells from forming new cells after an injury, the injury gradually expanded, and more nerve fibres were severed. They also found that more spinal cord nerve cells died in these mice compared to mice with intact stem cell function, which were able to form normal scar tissue.

"It turned out that scarring from stem cells was necessary for stabilising the injury and preventing it from spreading. Scar tissue also facilitated the survival of damaged nerve cells. Our results suggest that more rather than less stem cell scarring could limit the consequences of a spinal cord injury." said principal investigator Professor Jonas Frisén at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology.

According to earlier animal studies, recovery can be improved by transplanting stem cells to the injured spinal cord. The new findings suggest that stimulating the spinal cord's own stem cells could offer an alternative to cell transplantation.

The study was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Cancer Society, the Tobias Foundation, AFA Insurance, the Strategic Research Programme in Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine (StratRegen) at Karolinska Institutet and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

1) Hanna Sabelström, Moa Stenudd, Pedro Réu, David O. Dias, Marta Elfineh, Sofia Zdunek, Peter Damberg, Christian Göritz, and Jonas Frisén. (2013). Resident Neural Stem Cells Restrict Tissue Damage and Neuronal Loss After Spinal Cord Injury in Mice. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1242576

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