Can a pre-existing active lifestyle improve the chances of nerve regeneration after a spinal cord injury?

An image to illustrate an active lifestyle before a spinal cord injury
© iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

A pre-existing active lifestyle before a spinal cord injury could improve a person’s chances of nerve regeneration.

A new paper has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Using studies in mice and rats with a spinal cord injury, the scientists found a mechanism for repairing damaged nerve fibres.

A dorsal root ganglion neuron treated with the CBP-activator drug CSP-TTK21. Red – neuronal marker (Beta-III-tubulin) and green – H4K8 acetylation.
© Simone Di Giovanni and Thomas Hutson / Imperial College London

They found that giving the mice and rats more space, an exercise wheel, and some company made it more likely their damaged nerves would regenerate following spinal cord injury.

Professor Di Giovanni explained: “We discovered that environmental enrichment such as housing mice in a larger cage than usual, with more mice in it, more toys, tunnels, swings, running wheels etc. increases the activity of neurons. This leads to changes in gene expression which make the nerve more likely to regenerate. Essentially, by increasing the activity of neurons that sense enriched environmental stimuli we have been able to promote the regenerative potential of nerves after spinal cord injury.”

Further investigation of the cellular mechanisms

Dr Thomas Hutson, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who is first author on the publication, commented: “Although the findings that an active enriched lifestyle before injury can enhance the regenerative potential of nerve cells is exciting, humans that live enriched lives do not fully recover. This led us to further investigate the underlying cellular mechanisms to identify a therapeutic target that could be exploited after injury.”

Di Giovanni concluded: “The drug treatment that promoted regeneration and recovery in mice and rats after spinal cord injury offers an opportunity to be tested in patients,” said Professor Di Giovanni. “In principle, this kind of treatment is not very far from being tested in the clinic. Further studies are needed to show the drug is safe in humans, before it could be trialled. But in future it could potentially be combined with neurorehabilitation in clinical trials.”

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