A neuronal bridge
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Information travels through neurons as an electrical impulse. However, this signal cannot jump onto the next neuron. Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. The synapse contains a very small gap where special molecules, called neurotransmitters, trigger the electric flow in the second neuron.
Disorders such as spinal cord injury disrupt the integrity of the synapse leading to impairment and disability.
Scientists created a synthetic synaptic organizer protein that acts as a molecular bridge, re-establishing neuronal links destroyed by the injury. Called CPTX, it mimics a natural protein that links sending and receiving neurons. The drug was tested in preclinical experiments on several conditions. Nevertheless, a great impact was seen in spinal cord injury, where motor function returned for at least seven to eight weeks. This was after just a single injection into the site, one week after injury.
A long way to go
This discovery creates a new, highly promising tool to help to improve functions for numerous conditions, among them spinal cord injury. New and more stable versions of CPTX are now being made. However, a lot more work is needed to understand if these findings are applicable to humans.
This study was published in the journal Science.
Source: Suzuki K, Elegheert J, Song I, Sasakura H, Senkov O, Matsuda K, Kakegawa W, Clayton AJ, Chang VT, Ferrer-Ferrer M, Miura E, Kaushik R, Ikeno M, Morioka Y, Takeuchi Y, Shimada T, Otsuka S, Stoyanov S, Watanabe M, Takeuchi K, Dityatev A, Aricescu AR, Yuzaki M. A synthetic synaptic organizer protein restores glutamatergic neuronal circuits. Science 2020 Aug 28;369(6507):eabb4853.
You can find out more on the spinal cord and the influence of its damage on the human body in our basic-information. Wings for Life Glossary gives an understanding of scientific terms.