Ancient Fish Genes May Hold Key to Spinal Cord Repair
Credit: Jeremy Monroe
A new study reports that many of the genes that repair an injured spinal cord in a fish called the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals. This discovery is significant because it shows the possibility that the same or similar genes may be used to improve spinal cord repair in other animals and perhaps eventually lead to therapeutic developments for humans.
The paper, published today in Scientific Reports, was led by Associate Professor Ona E. Bloom of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. "Scientists have known for many years that the lamprey achieves spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury, but we have not known the molecular recipe that accompanies and supports this remarkable capacity," said Dr. Bloom. "In this study, we have determined all the genes that change during the course of recovery in the lamprey. Now that we have that information, we can use it to test if specific pathways are actually essential to the process."
Lampreys are jawless, eel-like fish that, about 550 million years ago, shared a common ancestor with humans. The observation that a lamprey can fully recover from a severed spinal cord without medication or other treatment is what spurred this study. They can go from paralysis to full swimming behaviors in 10 to 12 weeks.
The study, conducted in collaboration with the Marine Biological Laboratory, analyzed the lampreys' healing process to determine which genes and signaling pathways were activated as compared to a non-injured lamprey. They found the expression of many genes in the spinal cord change over time with recovery and that a number of genes also change in the brain. They also saw that many of the genes associated with the response to spinal cord injury are part of the Wnt signaling pathway, which also plays a role in tissue development and in regeneration in several other animals, like salamanders and zebrafish. These data suggest specific signaling pathways that may be different after spinal cord injury in mammals, like humans, which do not have the same natural regenerative responses.
"[This study] involved several different labs located in different parts of the country with different types of expertise, but it absolutely could not and would not have been done without the support of the MBL that allows us to work collaboratively in a shared laboratory setting," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the MBL's Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering, one of the authors of the study.
This article has been republished from materials provided by the Feinstein Institute. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Reference: Herman, P. E., Papatheodorou, A., Bryant, S. A., Waterbury, C. K. M., Herdy, J. R., Arcese, A. A., … Bloom, O. (2018). Highly conserved molecular pathways, including Wnt signaling, promote functional recovery from spinal cord injury in lampreys. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 742. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-18757-1