Lab-grown nerves cells used to find out why some nerves heal but others can be damaged permanently
Hoping to understand why some nerves heal, while injury to others leaves permanent damage, researchers grew this artificial bed of nerve cells or neurons. On the left, stringy neuron fibres called axons develop along tiny channels towards the chamber on the right. Here they meet oligodendrocytes (green) – cells which wrap around and protect the axons, just as they do in our spinal cord. After injury to a peripheral nerve, in the hand for example, 'broken' bits of neuron quickly disintegrate and are cleared away so fresh growth can begin. In the spine things are different. Making tiny cuts in these lab-grown axons to mimic spinal injury, researchers found that oligodendrocytes actually block the clearing process and prevent healing. Boosting levels of VEGFR1 – a protein at work in neurons elsewhere in the body – restores 'healing' in the lab, raising hopes for future treatments to prevent lasting nerve damage or paraplegia.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.