The human central nervous system can reorganize itself and follow new pathways to restore cellular communication after spinal cord damage, a U.S. study found.
Lead author Dr. Michael Sofroniew of the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, said that until now, doctors believed the only way for injured patients to walk again was to regrow the long nerve highways linking the brain and base of the spinal cord.
“Imagine the long nerve fibers that run between the cells in the brain and lower spinal cord as major freeways,” Sofroniew said in a statement. “When there’s a traffic accident on the freeway, what do drivers do? They take shorter surface streets. These detours aren’t as fast or direct, but still allow drivers to reach their destination.”
Using a mouse model, Sofroniew and colleagues blocked half of the long spinal cord nerve fibers in different places and on each side, but they left untouched the spinal cord’s center.
“When spinal cord damage blocked direct signals from the brain, under certain conditions the messages were able to make detours around the injury,” Sofroniew said.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Medicine.