Researchers use optogenetics to repair damaged nerve in a mouse

by Bob Yirka report
Researchers use optogenetics to repair damaged nerve in a mouse

(Medical Xpress)—A combined team of neuroscientists and optogenics researchers in the U.K. has developed a technique for using light to restore function to muscles made useless by damaged nerves. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their technique and how it might prove useful in humans sometime in the future. Shrivats Iyer and Scott Delp provide more insight into the work done by the researchers in a Perspective piece in the same journal issue.

Damaged nerves, whether due to trauma or disease are still a major health problem, leading to a wide variety of disabilities in people around the world. At its root, the problem quite often boils down to an inability to cause to regenerate. In this new effort, the researchers set out to discern if optogentics might help.

Optogentics is where cells are modified to produce proteins that respond to light. With nerve cells, that would mean the presence of light would cause them to fire. Up till now, most research involving optogenetics has revolved around brain studies. In this new effort, the researchers used what has been learned to date to cause the restoration of muscle function in a mouse leg.

The researchers started by modifying a group of embryonic stems cell to cause them to produce a protein responsive to light. Next, they programed the cells to grow into nerve cells, which were implanted onto the ligated sciatic nerve of a mouse. After allowing time for the implanted cells to integrate with the existing cells, the researches cut the mouse open again and shone a on the implant. Doing, so, they discovered, caused activation of the .

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Animated movie explaining in lay terms the experiments conducted in our research report, along with potential future applications for the technique that we have developed. Credit: Barney Bryson

The results of the research suggests that optgenetics might be useful as a therapeutic technique, not as a means of instantly restoring function—it would be used in a way similar to electrical stimulation therapy techniques that encourage the regeneration of lost nerve cells.

Also, while the research does show that nerve pathways can be reestablished using optogenetics, as Iyer and Delp point out, there is still a lot to be learned before such science might be used for treatment in humans. One serious question is whether the technique could be used on a patient that is not under anesthesia, or would it cause too much pain in someone who is awake. Another is how to control the flow of electricity from the cells to the muscle—in the study, repeated activations led to deformed muscle structure.

More information: Optical Control of Muscle Function by Transplantation of Stem Cell–Derived Motor Neurons in Mice, Science 4 April 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6179 pp. 94-97 DOI: 10.1126/science.1248523

Damage to the central nervous system caused by traumatic injury or neurological disorders can lead to permanent loss of voluntary motor function and muscle paralysis. Here, we describe an approach that circumvents central motor circuit pathology to restore specific skeletal muscle function. We generated murine embryonic stem cell–derived motor neurons that express the light-sensitive ion channel channelrhodopsin-2, which we then engrafted into partially denervated branches of the sciatic nerve of adult mice. These engrafted motor neurons not only reinnervated lower hind-limb muscles but also enabled their function to be restored in a controllable manner using optogenetic stimulation. This synthesis of regenerative medicine and optogenetics may be a successful strategy to restore muscle function after traumatic injury or disease.

Press release

Related Stories

A light switch inside the brain

date Jan 18, 2013

Activating and deactivating individual nerve cells in the brain is something many neuroscientists wish they could do, as it would help them to better understand how the brain works.

Recommended for you

Organ transplant rejection may not be permanent

date 7 hours ago

Rejection of transplanted organs in hosts that were previously tolerant may not be permanent, report scientists from the University of Chicago. Using a mouse model of cardiac transplantation, they found that immune tolerance ...

Researchers find key mechanism that causes neuropathic pain

date 9 hours ago

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have identified a key mechanism in neuropathic pain. The discovery could eventually benefit millions of patients with chronic pain from trauma, diabetes, shingles, multiple ...

Deep sea light shines on drug delivery potential

date 9 hours ago

A naturally occurring bioluminescent protein found in deep sea shrimp—which helps the crustacean spit a glowing cloud at predators—has been touted as a game-changer in terms of monitoring the way drugs ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Apr 04, 2014
It looks like we are a factorial curve with regard to this kind of discovery: The positive slope is increasing factorially (relatively long slow beginning...) rather than exponentially and these kinds of experiments just force the door, the vault door of opportunity, to open wider and faster almost day by day. The article after this one, today, is like these researchers were toiling in the same buildings in adjacent rooms and they knew about each other all along!

Together, these two announcements make for a banner day in scientific research - MOST impressive!


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.