The common drugs to ease the effects of a spine cord injury or an injury in the nervous system are anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. When a nerve is injured, a process of inflammation occurs and the immune system gets activated –it sends macrophages so they act on the damaged area- and there is a high level of oxidation, which affects the membrane and DNA of some neurons, and can cause cell death.
Everything points out to the fact that the oxidation process could favour the regeneration of axons (prolongation of neurons) after a nerve injury. This is the most relevant conclusion of a pre-clinical study published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, with the participation of José Antonio del Río, professor at the Faculty of Biology and member of the Institute of Neurosciences of the UB (UBNeuro) and IBEC.
The study focuses on the unchained mechanisms of a preconditioning nerve injury, associated with high oxidation levels (reactive oxygen species, ROS). “When there has been a prior lighter injury in the nervous system, the recovery after an acute injury proves to be more effective”, says researcher Arnau Hervera (IBEC), first author of the study. “We could therefore think this mechanism is similar to the vaccines, preparing the immune system for an attack, that is, like a cell memory”, he adds.
According to Professor José Antonio del Río (UB, UBNeuro and IBEC), “a conditioning injury wouldn’t be useful therapeutically. However, if we understand the mechanisms that lie behind –basically, how this oxidation works-, we can control and improve the regeneration after spine injuries”.
The new study identifies macrophages as the key factors of signalling –through ROS- to enhance the regeneration of the injured axons. The study, carried out in collaboration with the team led by Professor Simone di Giovanni, from the Imperial College London, could serve to inspire the design of new drugs to activate spinal regeneration regulating the pre-injury oxidation process. Moreover, the indiscriminate use of antioxidant therapies on nerve injuries should be examined, since these could block the body’s own regenerative response.
Universitat de Barcelona