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Spinal Cord Regeneration

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Three theories of regeneration dominate neuroscience today, all purporting to explain why the adult central nervous system (CNS) cannot regenerate. One theory proposes that Nogo, a molecule expressed by myelin, prevents axonal growth. The second theory emphasizes the role of glial scars. The third theory proposes that chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) prevent axon growth. Blockade of Nogo, CSPG, and their receptors indeed can stop axon growth in vitro and improve functional recovery in animal spinal cord injury (SCI) models. These therapies also increase sprouting of surviving axons and plasticity. However, many investigators have reported regenerating spinal tracts without eliminating Nogo, glial scar, or CSPG. For example, many motor and sensory axons grow spontaneously in contused spinal cords, crossing gliotic tissue and white matter surrounding the injury site. Sensory axons grow long distances in injured dorsal columns after peripheral nerve lesions. Cell transplants and treatments that increase cAMP and neurotrophins stimulate motor and sensory axons to cross glial scars and to grow long distances in white matter. Genetic studies deleting all members of the Nogo family and even the Nogo receptor do not always improve regeneration in mice. A recent study reported that suppressing the phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) gene promotes prolific corticospinal tract regeneration. These findings cannot be explained by the current theories proposing that Nogo and glial scars prevent regeneration. Spinal axons clearly can and will grow through glial scars and Nogo-expressing tissue under some circumstances. The observation that deleting PTEN allows corticospinal tract regeneration indicates that the PTEN/AKT/mTOR pathway regulates axonal growth. Finally, many other factors stimulate spinal axonal growth, including conditioning lesions, cAMP, glycogen synthetase kinase inhibition, and neurotrophins. To explain these disparate regenerative phenomena, I propose that the spinal cord has evolved regenerative mechanisms that are normally suppressed by multiple extrinsic and intrinsic factors but can be activated by injury, mediated by the PTEN/AKT/mTOR, cAMP, and GSK3b pathways, to stimulate neural growth and proliferation.
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Keywords: Chrondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs); Glial scar; Myelin; Nogo; Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN)

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ, USA

Publication date: April 9, 2014

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