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Monkeys regain finger flexibility after spinal injury
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Monkeys with spinal cord injuries regain flex in their fingers thanks to a collection of nerve cells, or ‘neurons’, that bypass the damaged section.
Spinal injuries can disrupt the vital neuron pathway the brain uses to tell muscles to move, resulting in paralysis. However, some monkeys with spinal injuries have recovered hand movements within a few months of the injury, suggesting that a different set of nerves that connect several spinal cord segments, the propriospinal neurons (PNs), had created a new pathway.
To test this theory, a team including researchers from Keio University injected a virus into monkeys with spinal injuries to selectively block PN transmission. They tested the animals’ ability to pick up sweet potato chunks with their thumb and forefinger before and after spinal injury and found that inhibiting PN prevented full recovery of precision grip.
Identifying and enhancing the neuron pathways that aid recovery could provide treatment options for spinal injuries.
- PNAS 114, 604-609 (2017). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1610787114