Coaxing stem cells to repair the spinal cord
Becker Catherina G, Thomas Becker
Spinal cord injuries destroy neurons, axonal processes, and oligodendrocytes that provide insulation and protection of axons by means of membrane wrappings, called myelin sheaths. None of these cellular structures are efficiently replaced after injury. This can lead to lifelong disabilities, including paralysis. Endogenous stem cells exist in the spinal cord, but after injury they produce mainly astrocytic scar tissue, no neurons, and very few oligodendrocytes (1). On page 73 of this issue, Llorens-Bobadilla et al. (2) show that by overexpressing a single factor in spinal stem cells, they can boost post-injury production of oligodendrocytes in mice. This leads to better remyelination of remaining axons that lost their myelin and to improved axonal impulse conduction in vivo. The study raises hope that endogenous stem cells in the injured spinal cord can be recruited to generate neural cell types in a more balanced way after injury to promote recovery of function.