Holding off on spinal cord surgery until a few weeks after an injury, rather than attempting it immediately, improves the chances of regaining some powers of movement lost because of the injury, a new study of rats finds.
Spinal injuries damage neurons. These cells' long tendrils, called axons, then can't carry signals from the brain to muscles and other tissues, a formula for paralysis.
Scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., attempted to repair severed spinal cords in rats by implanting spinal tissue from fetal rats either immediately after an injury or 2 or 4 weeks later. For 14 days, all the animals also received infusions of neurotrophins--naturally occurring chemicals that induce axons to grow--or an inert substance.
The researchers then observed whether the animals regained movement of their paralyzed hind limbs. Starting 3 weeks after surgery, rats getting delayed surgery and neurotrophins began using the limbs to stand, walk, and climb stairs markedly better than did rats that received prompt surgery as well as the neurotrophins, the scientists report in the Dec. 1 JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE. Rats not getting the neurotrophins failed to improve.
Examination of the animals at least 2 months after surgery revealed that rats getting a combination of delayed transplants and neurotrophins grew more and longer axons than the other rats did, says study coauthor and neuroscientist Barbara S. Bregman. The researchers also traced dye injected into the severed nerves and found that it traversed the injury site in animals …