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When a human suffers a spinal cord injury (SCI), the damage done to his or her nerve connections is permanent, rendering him or her debilitated or even paralyzed. However, when lower vertebrates like the sea lamprey, a fish that has the appearance of an eel, experience injury to their spinal cord, they are able to recover thanks to their ability to regenerate nerve connections. Researchers at University of Missouri wondered why and embarked on a study to find the answer. They recently found some answers that could open up new SCI treatment possibilities for humans, according to a report by

The researchers focused on the reticulospinal neurons, which are found in the brainstem and are needed for locomotion. These neurons transmit signals to the spinal cord, dictating the body’s movements. Damage to these often results in paralysis below the affected area for humans and other higher vertebrates. Sea lamprey and other lower vertebrates can restore reticulospinal neurons, making it possible for them to regain motor function within a few weeks.

To find out more about the mechanism behind this regeneration process, researchers isolated injured reticulospinal neurons from sea lamprey. They stimulated certain molecules with chemicals and closely observed the effects. They noticed that when activated, cyclic AMP, a molecule responsible for transmitting chemical signals in cells, instigated the conversion of neurons to a growth state. Neurons already in the process of growth were not affected.

Director of the MU Spinal Cord Injury Program, Andrew McClellan, believes that the study’s findings may have implications for the possibility of neural regeneration in humans and other mammals.

“In mammals, cyclic AMP does appear to enhance neural regeneration within the central nervous system in an environment that normally inhibits regeneration,” he said. “Cyclic AMP seems to be able to overcome some of these inhibitory factors and promotes at least some regeneration. Hopefully our studies with the lamprey can provide a list of conditions that are important for neural regeneration to help guide therapies in higher vertebrates, and possibly in humans.”

The northern California SCI attorneys at Caputo and Van Der Walde – Injury & Accident Attorneys were happy to hear about this new scientific development. We hope it leads to great strides in SCI treatment, improving the lives of SCI patients everywhere.