Study: Injured spinal cord successfully regenerates neuronal cells

Successful recoding of a type of glial cell in the central nervous system into new neuronal cells promotes recovery from spinal cord nerve damage, offering new hope in the field of neuroregenerative therapy, according to research published March 5 in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

There are hundreds of thousands of people with spinal injuries throughout the United States, with thousands more being added each year. Neurons within the central nervous system are unable to regenerate after injury, and injured individuals generally face permanent physical and neurological disease.

One of the lead researchers, Wei Wu of Indiana University School of Medicine, said this is the first study in the medical community to turn NG2 glial cells into functional neuronal cells after spinal injury.

There are three types of glial cells, including astrocytes, ependymal cells and NG2 glial cells. After spinal cord injury, glial cells begin to form scar tissue.

“Studies on adult mice saw that after spinal cord injury, only NG2 glial cells have the potential to become functional neurons. Interestingly, by elevating the level of the transcription factor SOX2, these cells successfully turned into neuronal cells and reduced scar production, improving the recovery of neurological function.” Wu Wei said.

The researchers recoded NG2 cells from mice and increased the levels of the transcription factor SOX2 in them. The transcription factor SOX2 plays an important role in the generation of neuronal cells. Co-investigator Xiao-Ming Xu, a professor of neuroscience at Indiana University School of Medicine, said the conversion process accomplishes two goals: generating neuronal cells lost from spinal cord damage and reducing the size of scars in the injured tissue area.

The results will be an important target for future treatments of spinal cord injuries, the researchers said.