Sydney: A study of nerve injury in roundworms shows how they can regenerate damaged tissues, potentially opening the way to repairing the human nervous system.
"Though damaged nerves reconnect in a number of different ways, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood," says Brent Neumann, post-doctoral fellow at Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), who carried out the work at Massimo Hilliard`s lab.
The research examines a process called axonal fusion, which has been observed in crayfish, earthworms, leeches and now in the roundworm C. elegans, the journal Developmental Dynamics reports.
It offers a fundamentally different mechanism for regeneration of axons (long structures that look like cables conducting electrical impulses between nerve cells) than those traditionally proposed, according to a QBI statement.
Using fluorescent imaging, the QBI study showed that axonal fusion is a highly effective way to restore neuronal connections with the target tissue.
Neumann notes that severed axons can restore their pathways by bridging just the damage site instead of regrowing their entire length beyond an injury site.
"In the worm, this process happens automatically a certain percentage of the time," Hilliard explains.
They will focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the process - and how to make it happen when it doesn`t do so naturally.