There are approximately six million people in the U.S. living with paralysis – the loss of muscle function caused by nerve damage. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., have identified a small molecule that they say could trigger nerve repair in humans, paving the way for new treatments for paralysis.
The research team, including senior author Kuo-Fen Lee, a professor at Salk, recently published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.
Many creatures, such as dogs, whales, snails and frogs, have the ability to repair nerves after injury – a process that researchers have been striving to mimic in humans.
Last year, Lee and colleagues published a study in the journal PLOS One revealing that a protein called p45 activates nerve regeneration in these animals by stopping myelin – the protective coating around nerve fibers (axons) – from halting nerve regrowth.
But they found that humans and primates do not possess the p45 protein. Instead, they have a protein called p75, which attaches itself to myelin when nerves are damaged and prevents their repair.
The team’s latest study investigated this process in more detail and looked at how introducing the p45 protein could encourage nerve repair.
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