SCI Detour?

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2013

California researchers report findings.

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SCI triggers cell death, shown by the pink cells (left). However, it's reduced when the levels of P45 are increased in those cells (right).

Similar to finding a new path home in a traffic jam, California researchers are looking at a way to reroute nerve signals after a spinal-cord injury (SCI).

The group from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California says they have found a specific protein that could make rerouting possible. Published in the July 23 issue of PLOS ONE, the researchers describe how the protein, named P45, may yield insight into a possible molecular mechanism to promote rerouting for spinal-cord healing and functional recovery.

“It’s like a detour after an earthquake,” says Kuo-Fen Lee, the Salk Institute’s Helen McLoraine Chair in Molecular Neurobiology. “If the freeway is down, but you can still take the side-streets, traffic can still move. So your strategy has to be to find a way to preserve as much tissue as possible to give yourself a chance for that rerouting.”

A successful rerouting after SCI depends on how much healthy tissue is left. However, wounds set off a cascade of reactions within cells, which if not stopped in time will result in more dead and dying tissue. 

Because injured mice can recover more fully from SCI than humans, Lee sought the source of the difference. He discovered that the P45 protein had a previously unknown neuroprotective effect.

“As a biochemist and neurobiologist, this discovery gives me hope that we can find a potential target molecule for drug treatments,” says Lee. “Nevertheless, I must caution that this is only the first step in knowing what to look for.”

The next step for Lee’s laboratory will be seeking either a gene or a process that works in a similar see-saw way in humans, or can be made to work with therapeutic intervention.

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