Thousands of people worldwide suffer severe spinal cord injuries each year, but little is known about why these injuries often continue to deteriorate long after the initial damage occurs.
Yi Ren, a professor of biomedical sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine, is making progress in understanding why such significant harm is inflicted in the weeks and months after a spinal injury. In a study published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Ren explained how a natural immune system response may contribute to additional injury.
When spinal cord damage occurs, the endothelial cells that line blood vessels are activated to remove potentially harmful material, like myelin debris, from the site of the injury. However, Ren and her team discovered that this process may be responsible for causing further harm.
“The consequences of the effort of endothelial cells to clear myelin debris is often severe, contributing to post-traumatic degeneration of the spinal cord and to the functional disabilities often associated with spinal cord injuries,” said Ren, whose team conducted the study over a period of five years.