Building bridges to regenerate axons

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Science  04 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6312, pp. 544-545
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal2112

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After traumatic spinal cord injury, local damage responses have an important effect on regenerating axons. In lower organisms (i.e., zebrafish and newt), glial cells and other non-neuronal cell types proliferate, migrate, and differentiate to form a bridge between the two ends of a transected spinal cord. This glial bridge supports axon regeneration across the lesion site, enabling functional recovery. However, in mammals, a glial scar composed of mixed cell types and extracellular matrix forms to seal such a wound. Although early studies emphasized the inhibitory nature of this scar, recent studies have revealed that in mammals, as in lower organisms, it can also serve as a bridge to facilitate axon regeneration (13). Yet, how this glial reaction is regulated remains largely unknown. On page 630 of this issue, Mokalled et al. (4) report that connective tissue growth factor a (CTGFa) is crucial for directing glial bridging and subsequent axon regeneration in a zebrafish model of spinal cord injury. Although it remains to be determined whether this is the case in mammals, this finding could inform the design of neural repair strategies.