New research findings: how zebrafish heal spinal cord injuries

Euan MacDonald Centre researchers have published fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections.

For people and other mammals, damage to the spinal cord is permanent and results in irreversible paralysis. Zebrafish however have the remarkable ability to regain full movement within four weeks of injury to their spinal cord. The fish are able to restore damaged connections and nerve cells in the spinal cord.

Zebrafish nerve fibres (arrows) from the injured spinal cord (green) grow back across the wound site (red)_Credit University of EdinburghScientists at the University of Edinburgh Centre for Neuroregeneration found that after injury, wound-healing cells called fibroblasts move into the site of damage. These fibroblasts produce a molecule called collagen 12, which changes the structure of the support matrix that surrounds nerve fibres. This enables the damaged fibres to grow back across the wound site and restore the lost connections.

Understanding these signals could hold clues for therapies to help restore vital connections between the brain and muscles after injury, or in degenerative conditions like MND.


Lead researcher Professor Catherina Becker, Director of the Centre for Neuroregeneration at the University of Edinburgh, said: “In people and other mammals, the matrix in the injury site blocks nerves from growing back after an injury. We have now pinpointed the signals that remove this roadblock in zebrafish, so that nerve cells can repair connections that are lost after damage to the spinal cord.”

“We next plan to check whether triggering these signals in other animals can help them to repair nerve connections damaged by spinal cord injuries.”

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council. The German research funding organisation, DFG, also supported the research.

Related links

Listen to Prof Catherina Becker discuss the findings on BBC Radio 4 Today programme (c. 1h 48min; available for 30 days)

Read the scientific publication in Nature Communications: Wnt signaling controls pro-regenerative Collagen XII in functional spinal cord regeneration in zebrafish. doi:10.1038/s41467-017-00143-0

Professor Catherina Becker Principal Investigator profile