How Nerves Navigate the Developing Brain

Study offers new insight into spinal cord nerve cell growth

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- New insight into the way nerves navigate across the midline of the brain and spinal cord in developing embryos is outlined in a study in the November issue of Nature Neurosciences.

The finding helps scientists better understand normal nervous system development and offers a new target for research into reestablishing nervous system connections damaged due to spinal cord injuries, the researchers said.

The Medical College of Georgia researchers found that an enzyme called focal adhesion kinase instructs the arm-like extension (axon) of a neuron to cross the midline of the spinal cord during embryonic development. Once the axon completes the crossing, it becomes part of the complex network that links the left and right sides of the brain.

"This kinase plays a role in helping direct axon movement across the spinal cord during development," study author Dr. Wen-Cheng Xiong, a development neurobiologist, said in a prepared statement.

"How it does that is one of the questions we hope to answer next. We still have a lot of questions," she said.

One of these questions is why this mechanism doesn't seem to work after the embryo's development is complete.

"If the spinal cord is injured, why doesn't it re-cross that boundary? Why are these molecules not functioning well in the adult?" Xiong said.

More information

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has more about spinal cord injury.

SOURCE: Medical College of Georgia, news release, Oct. 26, 2004
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