Brain researchers investigate nervous system repair with worms and fish

Worms and fish may be the key to helping people with injured nervous systems.

Repairing the nervous system is a difficult task. Some injuries can be fixed with varying degrees of success and some damage causes lifelong disability.


However according to a University of Queensland press release, researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have been studying nerve injuries in roundworms and the roundworms have revealed a different method for which regeneration can happen. This method will take medical scientists a step closer to figuring out how to encourage repair in the nervous system.


“Though damaged nerves reconnect in a number of different ways, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood,” says Dr Brent Neumann, the postdoctoral fellow who conducted the research in the laboratory of Dr Massimo Hilliard.


The research was published this month in the latest issue of Developmental Dynamics. It studies a process called axonal fusion, which has been seen in crayfish, earthworms, leeches and now the lowly roundworm  Caenorhabditis elegans (or C. elegans).


It suggests a profoundly different instrument for regeneration of axons (which are long structures that look like cables and conduct electrical impulses between neurons) than those conventionally offered.


By using imaging, the QBI study displayed that axonal fusion is a very effective technique for restoring neuronal connections with the targeted tissue.


Dr Neumann has said that transected (severed) axons can restore their routes by connecting just the damage site instead of regrowing their whole span beyond an injury site.


“In the worm, this process happens automatically a certain percentage of the time,” Dr Hilliard explains. “As C. elegans are highly accessible for genetic analyses, future research will focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the process – and how to make it happen when it doesn’t do so naturally.”

“We do not know yet if something similar occurs in humans, but if it is not in place it doesn’t mean we can’t make it happen,” he said

The fish/worm research was carried out in partnership with Professor David Hall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and Associate Professor Adela Ben-Yakar of the University of Texas at Austin.

Information provided by: The University of Queensland Australia