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Engaging Neuron-Intrinsic Signaling for Axon Growth After Spinal Cord Injury
The long-term goal of research in the Zhong lab is to find ways to promote axon regeneration in the central nervous system, to re-establish functional circuitry after traumatic injury or in neurodegenerative diseases. The current study focuses on regeneration of the corticospinal tract (CST) in pre-clinical models of spinal cord injury (SCI). The CST is crucial for voluntary movement in humans. This study will achieve three major goals: The first is to demonstrate that activation of a specific intracellular signaling mechanism enables substantial regeneration in the CST. The second goal is to label newly formed synapses – connections between regenerating CST axons and spinal interneurons as well as muscles – with an anterograde transsynaptic tracer. If successful, this will allow us to demonstrate that these synapses are indeed functional. Cutting edge multi-photon laser imaging technology developed in Dr. Chris Schaffer’s laboratory at Cornell University will enable us to directly observe the formation and activity of synapses in the regenerating injured spinal cord. The final goal is to determine how much CST axon regeneration and possibly synaptogenesis can be stimulated by repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). rTMS is a non-invasive technique already used to treat other neurological conditions. Successful completion of our pre-clinical study will facilitate the development of therapy options for SCI patients.