The overarching research focus of the laboratory of Lingxiao Deng, PhD is to augment our understanding of neural plasticity following spinal cord injury and provide the fundamental basis for promising new therapies.
Towards this goal, Dr. Deng’s work explores three important translational themes: the plasticity of neural circuitry mediating the recovery of bladder function after spinal cord injury; pharmacological approach to protect the spinal cord from contusive injury; and cell transplantation combined with locomotor exercise to improve the motor and bladder functional recovery after spinal cord injury. The main approaches utilized in the laboratory include animal model of spinal cord injury, cell transplantation, locomotor exercise, behavior evaluation, recombinant virus tracing the neural circuitry, urodynamic recording, histology, molecular biology, electrophysiology, mouse genetics and imaging.
Spinal cord injury results in significant impairment of motor, sensory and autonomic dysfunction, such as bladder function for the remainder of an individual’s life. It also increases the risk for numerous complications leading to increased morbidity and mortality. The biggest challenge to achieve functional recovery after spinal cord injury is to promote the regeneration of central nerve axons. Lack of supporting cellular matrix and inhibitory glial scar surrounding the lesion are two major barriers for axonal regeneration. Schwann cells are the supportive glial cell in peripheral nerves and considered to be one of the most promising cellular types for central nerve axonal regeneration. However, the therapeutic efficacy of Schwann cells is significantly limited because the grafted cells are often trapped within the lesion cavity by the glial scar and host astrocytes. One of Dr. Deng’s studies was the first to demonstrate that glial derived neurotrophic factor can reduce the glial scar at the interface between grafted Schwann cells and host astrocytes, significantly promoting axonal regeneration. This novel finding significantly extends our knowledge about the molecular mechanism of the glial derived neurotrophic factor's neuronal protective effects in several ways. Based on this finding, Dr. Deng established a Schwann cell-based continuous axonal growth—promoting pathway to successfully promote the regeneration of central nervous axons, particularly propriospinal axon to regenerate across the spinal cord lesion and led to the recovery of motor function.