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UCLA scientists restore walking after spinal cord injury
Date:1/6/2008

to see that most of the mice regained the ability to control their legs within eight weeks, said Sofroniew. They walked more slowly and less confidently than before their injury, but still recovered mobility.

When the researchers blocked the short nerve pathways in the center of the spinal cord, the regained function disappeared, returning the animals paralysis. This step confirmed that the nervous system had rerouted messages from the brain to the spinal cord via the shorter pathways, and that these nerve cells were critical to the animals recovery.

When I was a medical student, my professors taught that the brain and spinal cord were hard-wired at birth and could not adapt to damage. Severe injury to the spinal cord meant permanent paralysis, said Sofroniew.

This pessimistic view has changed over my lifetime, and our findings add to a growing body of research showing that the nervous system can reorganize after injury, he added. What we demonstrate here is that the body can use alternate nerve pathways to deliver instructions that control walking.

The UCLA teams next step will be to learn how to entice nerve cells in the spinal cord to grow and form new pathways that connect across or around the injury site, enabling the brain to direct these cells. If the researchers succeed, the findings could lead to the development of new strategies for restoring mobility following spinal cord injury.

Our study has identified cells that we can target to try to restore communication between the brain and spinal cord, explained Sofroniew. If we can use existing nerve connections instead of attempting to rebuild the nervous system the way it existed before injury, our job of repairing spinal cord damage will become much easier.

Spinal cord injury involves damage to the nerves enclosed within the spinal canal; most injuries result from trauma to the vertebral column. This affects the brains ability to send
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Contact: Elaine Schmidt
eschmidt@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2272
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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