Molecular Strategies for Spinal Cord Remyelination

Dwight Wynne






Between 250,000 and 400,000 people in the United States suffer from some form of Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), with approximately 11,000 new cases reported every year [1].  In most cases of Spinal Cord Injury, the vertebrae of the spine exert pressure on the axons of the neurons in the spinal cord, causing irreversible damage to these axons and ultimately leading to neuronal death [2].  However, in some cases, the spinal cord can be completely or partially severed.

In addition, several diseases, most prominently multiple sclerosis and the family of leukodystrophies, cause a loss of the myelin sheath surrounding these neurons. 

Spinal cord injury is most commonly associated in popular culture with actor Christopher Reeve, who was injured after being thrown from a horse in a 1995 accident.  Demyelinating disorders may be best associated with Lorenzo Odone, the inspiration behind the 1992 movie Lorenzo's Oil.

A vital component of both treating spinal cord injury and curing demyelinating disease is promoting remyelination of new axons.  Most promising techniques so far involve transplanting stem cells or neural precursor cells.  However, stem cell research is still controversial due to ethical questions, and alternatives to stem cell therapies are currently being sought.

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