Monica Sousa, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal

SPINY: Identifying the Mechanisms Responsible for Functional Recovery and Axon Regeneration

Funded in: 2020, 2021, 2022


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Problem: Adult vertebrate central nervous system axons fail to regenerate
Target: African Spiny Mouse is capable of recovering its motor function and bladder control after full transection
Goal: Identification of the molecules and mechanisms that allow axon regeneration after complete transection

Introduction: Lesions of the central nervous system (CNS), such as spinal cord injury (SCI), remain a major unmet medical condition. One of the main obstacles in the treatment of SCI is the fact that adult vertebrate CNS axons fail to regenerate. In a remarkable set of recent experiments, the members of this team have shown that the African Spiny Mouse (Acomys cahirinus) represents a unique exception from the rule and is capable of recovering its motor function and bladder control after full transection of the spinal cord. These findings suggest that mammals still retain capacity for CNS regeneration.
Problem statement: In this project, the researchers aim at understanding and characterizing the cellular and molecular mechanisms that enable the African Spiny Mouse to regenerate its spinal cord after severe injury.
Methods: Using this novel animal model and complementary strategies, ranging from transcriptomic and proteomic analyses, to in vitro and in vivo neurobiology and immunology assays, the scientists will decipher the underlying neuron-intrinsic and cell-extrinsic mechanisms that confer the increased regenerative capacity of Acomys axons.
Expected results: The scientists expect that the knowledge gained through the identification of the molecules and mechanisms that allow axon regeneration after complete transection of the Acomys spinal cord, will enable the design of new interventions capable of inducing axon regeneration in non-regenerative mammals.
Potential application: In the long term, the findings have the potential of offering novel therapeutic options to human SCI patients.