Sodium, which gets a bad rap for contributing to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, also plays a key role in initiating a regenerative response after severe injury, say scientists.
Biologists at Tufts University`s School of Arts and Sciences have discovered a way to regenerate injured spinal cord and muscle by using small molecule drugs to trigger an influx of sodium ions into injured cells.
The approach breaks new ground in the field of biomedicine because it requires no gene therapy; can be administered after an injury has occurred and even after the wound has healed over; and is bioelectric, rather than chemically based.
Tufts team carried out research on tadpoles because, like humans, they regenerate fingertips only as children and the findings were tremendous mostly directly applicable to spinal cord repair and limb loss.
"We have significantly extended the effective treatment window, demonstrating that even after scar-like wound covering begins to form, control of physiological signals can still induce regeneration. Artificially causing an influx of sodium for just one hour can overcome a variety of problems, such as the decline in regenerative ability that comes with age and the effect of regeneration-blocking drugs," said Michael Levin, Tufts Professor of Biology and corresponding author on the paper.
"The ability to restore regeneration using a temporally-controllable pharmacological approach not requiring gene therapy is extremely exciting," concluded researchers.