By Hillary Kleck
The ability to make a human nerve regenerate successfully (as with the ability to communicate effectively with the brain) could help cure a number of diseases and injuries, including visual impairment caused by Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH). Past studies have been unsuccessful with a large part being that the genes scientists needed to manipulate could greatly increase the subject’s risk of cancer. However, a recent change in the “type” of lab mice being used in a current study at Boston Children’s Hospital has shed light on what could be the missing link.
When researchers considered that maybe they were working with the wrong mice, they decided to genetically diversify the strains of mice to look for any differences among them. It turns out that they were on to something! A semi-wild strain of mice called “CAST” were found to have a noticeably higher axon (nerve fiber) growth rate without the program of activin- a protein found in lizards which allow them to regrow their tails- while the growth rate increased dramatically with the program of activin.
By finding what it is exactly that separates the CAST mice from the original strain of mice, researchers could potentially find the “missing link” in nerve regeneration of mammals, compared to animals like the lizard or fish which regrow injured fins.
For a more in-depth look at this study, read Fast Regenerating Mice Offer Clues for Stroke, Spinal Cord and Optic Nerve Injury on the Boston Children’s Hospital Vector Blog.