Researchers have found that a genetic trigger may improve the brain’s ability to heal from a range of debilitating conditions, from strokes to concussions and spinal cord injuries.
The study, carried out on mice, shows that turning on a gene inside cells called astrocytes results in a smaller scar and-potentially-a more effective recovery from injury.
“We have known that astrocytes can help the brain and spinal cord recover from injury, but we didn’t fully understand the trigger that activates these cells,” said co-author Mark Goldberg, from the University of Texas’ Southwestern Medical Center in the US.
For the study, published in the journal Cell Reports, researchers deleted the LZK gene in astrocytes of one group of injured mice, which decreased the cells’ injury response and resulted in a larger wound on the spinal cord.
They overexpressed the gene in other injured mice, which stimulated the cells’ injury response and resulted in a smaller scar.
Overexpressing the gene in uninjured mice also activated the astrocytes, confirming LZK as a trigger for astrogliosis, the researchers said.
The study showed that the LZK gene of astrocytes can be turned on to prompt a recovery response called astrogliosis, in which these star-shaped cells proliferate around injured neurons and form a scar.
According to the researcher, a smaller scar likely aids the healing process by isolating the injured neurons, similar to how isolating a spreading infection can improve recovery.