“Spinal cord injury is devastating, affecting patients, their families and our society,” Xu said. “Although tremendous progress has been made in our scientific community, no effective treatments are available for patients with such disorders. There is definitely an urgent need for the development of new strategies for patients with spinal cord injury.”
Xu, whose lab at IU School of Medicine is supported both through the NIH and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said researching the connection between cell energy and potential regeneration is a new direction for spinal cord injuries.
When a person suffers from a spinal cord injury, the axon, or nerve fibers, regenerate poorly, often leading to neurological impairment and eventual motor paralysis. In this study, Xu`s group found that the injured axons fail to regenerate due to energy deficits and disfunction in mitochondria—the power supply of the cell.
“The extremely polarized neurons face exceptional energy stress after traumatic insults,” said researcher Qi Han, PhD, the first author of the publication. “Like eating spinach to give Popeye strength, we found that stimulating internal cellular power plants by enhancing mitochondrial transport or energy metabolism is key to power central nervous system axons regeneration and functional recovery after spinal cord injury.”
Through three mouse model experiments, they found deleting a protein anchor in the mitochondria—syntaphilin—promoted axonal regeneration and improved recovery of motor functions. They also determined that increasing energy metabolism via creatine treatment promotes axonal regeneration and recovery of function following a spinal cord injury.
Xu said he hopes the strategy could be translated into future treatments of the injury.
IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.