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Wonders of Science. Mice with spinal cord injury restored the ability to walk – there is regeneration

Mice with completely damaged spinal cords were restored to the ability to walk. A study of therapy based on viral delivery of modified interleukin-6 (cytokine, signaling-information molecule) into nerve cells was published in the journal Nature.

Higher animals have a small ability of neuronal processes (axons) to recover if they were damaged, and the older the individual, the worse things are. Because of this, spinal cord injuries lead to partial or complete paralysis.

Regeneration of axons occurs, including through the launch of certain biochemical pathways by cytokines.

Scientists from the Ruhr University of Bochum endowed the adeno-associated virus with the ability to express the cytokine hyper-IL-6, and injected this “GMO-delivery” into the part of the cerebral cortex of mice with recently damaged corticospinal tract, which is responsible for motor activity.

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In some rodents in both groups (experiment and control), the PTEN gene was also “turned off”, which is believed to be responsible for the cascade of regenerative processes in neurons, but does not affect the restoration of mobility.

As a result, axons in mice with hyper-IL-6 grew by 6 mm after two months, and in combination with knocked out PTEN – by 7 mm. The targeted delivery of the cytokine resulted in the mice being able to walk normally after this therapy.

Further research showed that the effect of hyper-IL-6 is observed precisely in serotonergic neurons, which are grouped in the brain stem. With the expression of the cytokine, their axons regenerated, and after chemically damaging this type of neuron in recovered mice, they again could not use their hind legs.

The authors suggested that the positive effect of hyper-IL-6 is also observed due to the fact that in the usual way such compounds reach the medulla oblongata in small quantities.

“Transneuronal delivery of hyper-IL-6 provides regenerative stimulation of neurons in the deep brain stem, which are otherwise difficult to access, but very important for functional recovery after spinal cord injury,” they concluded.

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