Whether or not nerve cells are able to regrow after injury depends on their location in the body. Injured nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system, such as those in the arms and legs, can recover and regrow, at least to some extent. But nerve cells in the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — can’t recover at all. A UCLA-led collaboration has identified a specific network of genes and a pattern of gene expression mice that promote repair in the peripheral nervous system in a mouse model. This network, the researchers found, does not exist in the central nervous system. The researchers also found a drug that can promote nerve regeneration in the central nervous system. The study was published online on February 18, 2016 in the journal Neuron. The article is titled “A Systems-Level Analysis of the Peripheral Nerve Intrinsic Axonal Growth Program.” Nerve cells throughout the body are responsible for transmitting and receiving electrical messages to cells and tissues in other organ systems. “We know this transmission of messages can be impaired by injury, and the recovery of nerve cells after injury largely depends on their location,” said Vijayendran Chandran, Ph.D., a project scientist in the department of neurology at UCLA and the study’s first author. “Understanding these molecular differences in injured nerve cells in the limbs, where regeneration happens, versus injured nerve cells in the spinal cord, where regeneration fails, would open up the possibility to design treatment to enhance neuron regeneration in the central nervous system after injury.” The researchers measured the response of gene regulation at the level of messenger RNA in each instance of injury. Gene regulation is the process of turning genes on and off, ensuring that genes are expressed at the right times.
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