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New clues to nerve regeneration

Blocking a growth factor receptor allows damaged axons to re-grow, providing new clues to why nerves typically don't heal

Susan Brown(sdbrown@nasw.org)

Turning off a well-known chemical switch may allow severed nerves in adult mammals to regenerate, according to a report in this week'sScience. By jamming the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, the authors blocked harmful signals known to limit repair of damaged axons in the central nervous system. Their finding points to a promising new target for restoring neural function following injury, they say.

Previous research that sought to explain why mammalian axons fail to regenerate in the wounded brain or spinal cord found several inhibitory cues that prevent healing. The culprits include proteins associated with myelin and proteoglycans released by the glial scar that forms after neural injury.

In a search for a signal that might override this chemical blockade, a group led by Zhigang He of Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass. cultured neurons on a myelin substrate. They screened approximately 400 candidate compounds, looking for those that...

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