A group of scientists have determined that central nervous system support cells called astrocytes, when properly directed, leads to the repair of damaged nerves in the spinal cords of rats.
The team induced glial restricted precursor (GRP) cells to make two different astrocyte subtypes using growth factors that promote cell formation during normal development. They found dramatically different outcomes: One subgroup helped regenerate nerve fibers without the side effect of pain, while the other induced pain but no gain.
Investigators transplanted the two types of astrocytes into the injured spinal cords of rats. One type of astrocyte was remarkably effective at promoting nerve regeneration and functional recovery. The animals showed very high levels of new cell growth and survival as well as recovery of limb function, according to the researchers.
The other type of astrocyte not only failed to promote nerve fiber regeneration or functional recovery but also caused neuropathic pain. This side effect was not seen in rats treated with the beneficial astrocytes.
The scientists also learned that transplantation of the precursor cells themselves, without first turning them into astrocytes, also caused pain syndromes without promoting regeneration.
Research teams at the University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Rochester Department of Biomedical Genetics, and University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine participated in the study. The research is published today in the Journal of Biology.