These neurons, or neurons, called Vsx2, are found in the brainstem and spinal cord, and have been shown to play a key role in restoring motor function after spinal cord injury.
Researchers from Switzerland describe their findings as a “clinical breakthrough”. The study has been published in the journal nature.
Study author Jordan Squire believes that identifying neurons could pave the way for more targeted therapies for patients with paralysis.
“We can now aim to manipulate these neurons to regenerate the spinal cord,” he says.
The hope this gives people with a spinal cord injury is incrediblesays Mark Rothenberg, a neurologist and expert in spinal cord injuries at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
It causes paralysis
Severe spinal cord injuries can disrupt communication between the brain and the networks of nerve cells in the lower part of the spine that control walking.
In 2018, neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and colleagues showed that by giving electrical impulses to the lower nerves of the spine — a technique known as epidural electrical stimulation (EES) — along with intense exercise, a type of injury Spinal cord to go again.
All three participants in the experiment progressed from severe or complete motor paralysis and little sensation in their legs to being able to take steps on their own, or with a walker or crutches. Two other trials in the same year showed similar results.
Curtin’s team has now researched further. As part of the clinical trial, the researchers recruited nine participants who had severe or complete paralysis due to a spinal cord injury.
The patients received EES therapy – an experimental treatment that can help them regain movement and control they have lost.
Treatment for EES involves implanting a small stimulator device into the epidural space above the spinal cord.
The researchers saw that all patients quickly regained or improved their ability to walk during treatment and showed improved mobility after five months of treatment and rehabilitation.
An experiment on mice
The authors conducted a set of experiments in mice to find neurons associated with standing and walking after paralysis.
They found that Vsx2 neurons — a subset of a class of neurons called V2a — are associated with recovery of walking after paralysis.
Kee Wui Huang and Eiman Azim, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, who were not involved in the study, write in Nature’s News And Views that the findings “are consistent with the idea that certain types of spinal neurons that lost input from the brain can be ‘reawakened’.” After an injury or regain movement if given the right mix of stimulation and rehabilitation.
Study author Jocelyn Bloch, neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), says the new study is very valuable.
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