After a spinal cord damage, which can result in paralysis, mammals have a poor ability to recover. The creation of a complicated scar associated with persistent inflammation, which creates a cellular milieu that prevents tissue repair, is one of the major reasons for this.
Now, a research team led by Leonor Saude, group leader at Instituto de Medicina Molecular Joao Lobo Antunes (iMM; Portugal) and Professor at Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, have shown that the administration of drugs that target specific cellular components of this scar, improve functional recovery after injury.
The findings, which were recently published in the scientific journal Cell Reports, provide the groundwork for a new promising treatment technique that could benefit not only spinal cord injuries but also other organs that lack regeneration capacity.
Leonor Saude and her colleagues have been researching spinal cord damage in zebrafish and mammals, both of which exhibit poor recovery. The thick scar that develops at the location of the lesion has piqued researchers’ curiosity.
Cells begin to concentrate around the lesion perimeter in animals after spinal cord damage, according to researchers. “These cells are known as senescent cells,” says the researcher.
They have distinct characteristics and indicators, and they are what Leonor Saude refers to as “zombie cells,” in which growth and division are halted but the regular cell death pathway is not initiated.
While these cells accumulate at the injury periphery in zebrafish and are cleaned out over time, these cells remain in humans and are essential components of the thick scar seen. “There are particular medicines that might be tried in this situation since senescent cells have unique molecular markers,” says Diogo Paramos-de-Carvalho, the study’s first author.
“Although we are still a long way from healing spinal cord injuries in humans, we are learning more about the molecular signatures of these lesions, and these new promising results can open new therapeutic strategies that can be used not only for spinal cord injuries but also for other conditions that lack regenerative competence,” says Leonor Saude.