Mechanisms that Restrict Axon Regeneration after Injury

Damage to the developing or mature nervous system can be devastating due to the limiting ability of central nervous system axons to regenerate if they are severed.  Two laboratories in the IDDRC (Benowitz and Z. He) have made outstanding contributions to the understanding of the molecular basis of the barriers to axon re-growth after injury and are moving toward the development of potential therapies for promoting the effective re-growth of axons to restore function in the injured nervous system.  A focus of this research has been to identify the components in myelin that are inhibitory to re-growth.  Work by Zhigang He and his colleagues have identified a new component of myelin that inhibits axon growth and has identified a receptor complex on neurons that mediates the inhibition of axon growth by several myelin proteins.  The Benowitz and He laboratories have also each identified small compounds that can reverse the inhibition of axon growth and are therefore candidate therapies for treating spinal cord injuries as well as neurodegenerative disorders that result in substantial neuronal loss (Science 2005).