For the first time, researchers have enticed transplants of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons in the spinal cord to connect with muscles and partially restore function in paralyzed animals. The study suggests that similar techniques may be useful for treating such disorders as spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and spinal muscular atrophy. This study provides a ‘recipe’ for using stem cells to reconnect the nervous system.
Three months after they started treatments, the rats that had received the full cocktail of treatments – transplanted motor neurons, rolipram, dbcAMP, and GDNF-secreting neural stem cells in the sciatic nerve – had several hundred transplant-derived axons extending into the peripheral nervous system, more than in any other group. The axons in these animals reached all the way to the gastrocnemius muscle in the lower leg and formed functional connections, called synapses, with the muscle. The rats showed an increase in the number of functioning motor neurons and an approximately 50 percent improvement in hind limb grip strength by 4 months after transplantation. In contrast, none of the rats given other combinations of treatments recovered lost function. 6 months after treatment, 75 percent of rats given the full combination of treatments regained the ability to bear weight on the GDNF-treated limbs and to take steps and push away with the foot on that side of the body.
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