The latest news and information about what's going on with SCI science and research. Brought to you by Sam Maddox, author of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Guide.

New Tools, New Leads

New tools, new discoveries, promising new pathways to therapies.

Using a unique open-access gene library, Jane Roskams and her team discovered an overlooked stem-cell-like population on the mouse spinal cord. [tp:readmore]

This discovery of spinal cord radial glial cells (SCRG), which preserve many genetic properties of stem cells, leads Roskams to speculate that activating certain genes may encourage radial glial cells to repair the damaged adult spinal cord. The new cells “could be an important player in all manner of spinal cord injury and disease, including multiple sclerosis and ALS,” said Roskams.

A paper was published today describing the work. Read the whole paper on PLoS ONE.

Access a press release on PR Newswire.

Roskams, a scientist at the University of British Columbia (and previously funded by the Reeve Foundation to study the regenerative effect of olfactory ensheathing glia), utilized the Allen Spinal Cord Atlas (ASCA), comprising 17,000 specific genes that form the mammalian organism. That ASCA was seeded by $100 million from The Allen Institute for Brain Science (started by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). The gene maps can be accessed on the Allen Institute for Brain Science website.

Specifically, the Roskams group performed comparative gene expression analysis of neonatal radial glial cells versus the same population in the  adult. They identified distinct gene sets that regulate SCRG phenotype, activation and potential.

From the paper:

The ASCA is an interactive database of >17,000 genes expressed at two distinct developmental stages in the mouse spinal cord (SC) that serves as a resource to test for unique and collective expression patterns that enhance our understanding of the molecular identity of neuronal and non-neuronal cells in the SC. Here, we mined the dataset of the ASCA to establish a molecular signature for genes enriched in post-natal SC radial glia (RG) at an immature (plastic, post-natal day (PND) 4) and at a more mature (fixed, PND 56) state in order to reveal potential differences between established and novel SC and CNS progenitors. ….  We show that both developing and adult SCRG express genes from pathways that regulate proliferation, differentiation and migration in embryonic radial glia and adult neural stem cells. Our analysis suggests SCRG may have a more extensive in vivo potential than previously appreciated, and reveals distinct pathways that may regulate their activation.

There are genetic cues that might activate repair pathways. Also from the paper:

Ontological analysis of SCRG [spinal cord radial glial cells] gene expression has highlighted pathways that could be targeted to specifically direct adult SCRG into a pro-repair state in the lesioned SC. For example, the Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor (PPAR) pathway is highly represented in the SCRG dataset and has recently been implicated in plasticity and repair of the adult CNS. The anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective functions attributed to PPAR signaling, coupled with their newly-revealed enrichment in SCRG, make this pathway a promising therapeutic target to enhance the reparative capacity of the SC.

Lot’s of work to do but many more good leads to follow. The assembly blueprints for building the spinal cord appear to some extent to have been preserved. The trick is how to turn the genetic templates back on after damage to the adult cord. The body can’t seem to do this on its own. As Roskams sees it, it may be possible manipulate cells in the cord to enhance repair.
Posted by Sam Maddox on Sep 16, 2011 7:25 PM America/New_York