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Designer protein against paralysis

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Spinal cord injuries often result in damage of a special bundle of nerves called the corticospinal tract. This collection of neurons carries movement-related information from the brain to the spinal cord. Its damage, in humans, results in paralysis and it seems to be particularly resistant to regenerative therapies. A new approach gives hope to tackle this hurdle.

Designer protein stimulates regeneration
Scientists from the Department for Cell Physiology at Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum headed by Professor Dietmar Fischer used a specifically designed protein, known as hyper-interleukin-6. This so-called designer cytokine doesn't exist in nature and is designed to have a very specific and potent effect. Cytokines are proteins regulating growth and differentiation of cells.
The Bochum team injected a vector virus in the motor-sensory cortex, forcing the neurons to produce hyper-Interleukin-6 themselves. This approach allowed the protein to be produced in several, in particular hard to access, locations.

Application is effective in several areas
The gene therapy treatment of only a few nerve cells stimulated the regeneration of numerous nerve cells in the brain and several motor tracts in the spinal cord simultaneously. Ultimately, this allowed paralyzed animals to start walking again.

Next steps
The team now investigates ways to further enhance this positive effect. However, the more interesting aspect is that they will test this treatment on injuries that are more chronic. This approach is particularly relevant for application in humans. Yet, this approach can be used as a treatment for patients a lot of research still has to be done.

This study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Leibinger M, Zeitler C, Gobrecht P, Andreadaki A, Gisselmann G, Fischer D. Transneuronal delivery of hyper-interleukin-6 enables functional recovery after severe spinal cord injury in mice. Nat Commun 12,391 (2021).

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.