Technique to promote nerve regeneration after spinal cord injury restores bladder function in rats

June 25, 2013

Using a novel technique to promote the regeneration of nerve cells across the site of severe spinal cord injury, researchers have restored bladder function in paralyzed adult rats, according to a study in the June 26 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings may guide future efforts to restore other functions lost after spinal cord injury. It also raises hope that similar strategies could one day be used to restore bladder function in people with severe spinal cord injuries.

For decades, scientists have experimented with using nerve grafts as a way of bridging the spinal cord injury site in an attempt to recover lost function following spinal cord injury. However, coaxing these cells to grow and form connections capable of relaying has been elusive. In the current study, Yu-Shang Lee, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic, together with Jerry Silver, PhD, of Case Western Reserve Medical School, and others, used a chemical that promotes cell growth along with a scar-busting enzyme to create a more hospitable environment for the nerve graft at the injury site.

"Although animals did not regain the ability to walk, they did recover a remarkable measure of urinary control," Silver explained. This basic function is one that many spinal cord injury patients rank as one of the most important to regain following injury. "This is the first time that significant bladder function has been restored via after a devastating cord injury," Lee added.

When a spinal cord injury takes place, extensions of from the —the region of the brain where the command and coordination for urination takes place—become disconnected from cells in the spinal cord that control the muscles that squeeze or relax the bladder and open and close the urethra. The body's natural response to form a scar at the injury site reduces the spread of inflammation but deters the growth of severed . With no way for the cells between the brain stem and spinal cord to regenerate or reconnect, the injury often results in the permanent inability to empty the bladder.

The team of researchers delivered an enzyme called chondroitinase to disrupt scar formation in tandem with a chemical called fibroblast growth factor used to promote cell survival as they performed nerve graft surgery at the site of the injury. After three and six months, the scientists discovered that the rats that received this combination of treatment saw a significant return of bladder function, as indicated by measurements of urine output. Researchers also saw the regrowth of some brainstem cells across the injury site.

"What was especially surprising and exciting was that a subset of nerve cells situated largely in the brainstem could slowly re-grow far down the spinal cord once a permissive environment that allowed them past the site of the scar was provided," Silver said. "What endows these particular neurons with such an innately high re-growth capacity is unknown but will be an extremely important area of research in the future."

Elizabeth Bradbury, PhD, a spinal cord injury researcher at King's College London who was not involved with this study, cautioned that several challenges must be overcome before this type of therapy could be tested in people. "Nevertheless, this remarkable advance offers great hope for the future of restoring to spinal cord injury patients," she said.

Explore further: Blocking a protein could be key to treating spinal cord injuries

Related Stories

Blocking a protein could be key to treating spinal cord injuries

June 6, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Queensland scientists will begin clinical trials of treatment for spinal cord injuries after discovering dramatic improvements in balance and coordination when blocking a protein.

Spine function improves following cell replacement therapy with fetal human stem cells

May 27, 2013
Human foetal stem cell grafts improve both motor and sensory functions in rats suffering from a spinal cord injury, according to research published this week in BioMed Central's open access journal Stem Cell Research and ...

Hope for spinal cord injuries: Coaxing damaged nerve cells to grow, send messages to the brain again

June 11, 2013
"An ailment not to be treated," read the prescription for a spinal cord injury on an Egyptian papyrus in 1,700 B.C. Not much has changed in the intervening millennia. Despite decades of research, modern medicine has made ...

Fish study raises hope for spinal injury repair

May 30, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Scientists have unlocked the secrets of the zebra fish’s ability to heal its spinal cord after injury, in research that could deliver therapy for paraplegics and quadriplegics in the future.

Breathing restored after spinal cord injury

July 13, 2011
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine bridged a spinal cord injury and biologically regenerated lost nerve connections to the diaphragm, restoring breathing in an adult rodent model of spinal cord ...

Research offers hope in new treatment for spinal cord injuries

May 3, 2011
Rutgers researchers have developed an innovative new treatment that could help minimize nerve damage in spinal cord injuries, promote tissue healing and minimize pain.

Recommended for you

New map may lead to drug development for complex brain disorders, researcher says

July 24, 2017
Just as parents are not the root of all their children's problems, a single gene mutation can't be blamed for complex brain disorders like autism, according to a Keck School of Medicine of USC neuroscientist.

Bird songs provide insight into how developing brain forms memories

July 24, 2017
Researchers at the University of Chicago have demonstrated, for the first time, that a key protein complex in the brain is linked to the ability of young animals to learn behavioral patterns from adults.

Brain stimulation may improve cognitive performance in people with schizophrenia

July 24, 2017
Brain stimulation could be used to treat cognitive deficits frequently associated with schizophrenia, according to a new study from King's College London.

Scientists capture first image of major brain receptor in action

July 24, 2017
Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers have captured the first three-dimensional snapshots of the AMPA-subtype glutamate receptor in action. The receptor, which regulates most electrical signaling in the brain, ...

Research identifies new brain death pathway in Alzheimer's disease

July 24, 2017
Alzheimer's disease tragically ravages the brains, memories and ultimately, personalities of its victims. Now affecting 5 million Americans, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and a cure ...

Illuminating neural pathways in the living brain

July 24, 2017
Using light alone, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried are now able to reveal pairs or chains of functionally connected neurons under the microscope. The new optogenetic method, named Optobow, ...


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.