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Neural Stem Cells: Promoting Axonal Regeneration and Spinal Cord Connectivity.

Abstract

Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to irreversible functional impairment caused by neuronal loss and the disruption of neuronal connections across the injury site. While several experimental strategies have been used to minimize tissue damage and to enhance axonal growth and regeneration, the corticospinal projection, which is the most important voluntary motor system in humans, remains largely refractory to regenerative therapeutic interventions. To date, one of the most promising pre-clinical therapeutic strategies has been neural stem cell (NSC) therapy for SCI. Over the last decade we have found that host axons regenerate into spinal NSC grafts placed into sites of SCI. These regenerating axons form synapses with the graft, and the graft in turn extends very large numbers of new axons from the injury site over long distances into the distal spinal cord. Here we discuss the pathophysiology of SCI that makes the spinal cord refractory to spontaneous regeneration, the most recent findings of neural stem cell therapy for SCI, how it has impacted motor systems including the corticospinal tract and the implications for sensory feedback.

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