Body’s own stem cells
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At the heart of the spinal cord, a space filled with fluid can be found. This structure also known as the central canal stretches through the entire length of the spinal cord and transports nutrients to the cells of the spinal cord. The surface of the central canal is built up by a special type of cells that show a strong healing potential. After a spinal cord injury (SCI), those so-called ependymal cells start acting as stem cells and play an important role in limiting the spread of the lesion.
Communication is key
Connexins are special structures that bind together neighboring cells, e.g. ependymal cells, and therefore allow direct communication between them. Scientists from the Instituto de Investigaciones Biologicas Clemente Estable in Uruguay found out that they play an essential role in this healing effect mediated by ependymal cells.
The team around Prof. Raúl Russo made a special observation after a spinal cord injury: connexins change their profiles and, as a consequence, also the signaling at the cell level.. Furthermore, an artificial blocking of this process leads to less proliferation of stem cells. The work shows for the first-time which mechanism is at the origin of healing process after SCI.
An ideal source
As an important outcome, ependymal cells could be an ideal target for promoting recovery. They are already located at the site of SCI, not requiring any injection and would not have any side effect on the patients. First author Dr Gabriela Fabbiani concluded that his work “will provide valuable clues to improve the contribution of this stem cell niche to self-repair.”
This study was published in the “Journal of Neuroscience” and was supported by Wings for Life.