Neurons grown from embryonic stem cells restore function in paralyzed rats

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. The study was funded in part by the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
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New roles for growth factors: Enticing nerve cells to muscles

During embryonic development, nerve cells hesitantly extend tentacle-like protrusions called axons that sniff their way through a labyrinth of attractive and repulsive chemical cues that guide them to their target.

While several recent studies discovered molecules that repel motor neuron axons from incorrect targets in the limb, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a molecule, known as FGF, that actively lures growing axons closer to the right destination. Their findings appear in the June 15 issue of Neuron.
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Tiny RNA molecules fine-tune the brain’s synapses

Non-coding regions of the genome – those that don’t code for proteins – are now known to include important elements that regulate gene activity. Among those elements are microRNAs, tiny, recently discovered RNA molecules that suppress gene expression. Increasing evidence indicates a role for microRNAs in the developing nervous system, and researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston now demonstrate that one microRNA affects the development of synapses – the points of communication between brain cells that underlie learning and memory.

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Nerve regeneration is possible in spinal cord injuries

A team of scientists at UCSF has made a critical discovery that may help in the development of techniques to promote functional recovery after a spinal cord injury. By stimulating nerve cells in laboratory rats at the time of the injury and then again one week later, the scientists were able to increase the growth capacity of nerve cells and to sustain that capacity. Both factors are critical for nerve regeneration.
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