Brain can heal the spine
Marlowe Hood
Tue, 08 Jan 2008

Tiny nerves crisscrossing the spine can bypass crippling injuries recently written off as irreversible, scientists reported in a study published on Monday.

Experiments conducted on mice at the University of California in Los Angeles showed for the first time that the central nervous system can rewire itself to create small neural pathways between the brain and the nerve cells that control movement.

This startling discovery could one day open the way to new therapies for damaged spinal cords and perhaps address conditions stemming from stroke and multiple sclerosis, according to the study.

Normally, the brain relays messages that control walking or running via neural fibers called axons.

When these long nerves are crushed or severed — in a road crash or sports accident, for example — these lines of communication are cut, resulting in reduced movement or paralysis.

"Not long ago, it was assumed that the brain was hard-wired at birth and that there was no capacity to adapt to damage," explained neurobiologist Michael Sofroniew, who led the research.