The long term research goal in my laboratory is to elucidate the mechanisms of cellular interactions in the injured adult spinal cord that creates an environment inhibitory to axonal growth. Currently, we know which cells can produce what types of inhibitory molecules, but we need a better understanding of how these cells interact and the relative significance of the different inhibitory molecules they produce in order to identify an effective therapeutic target to treat spinal cord injury and related neurological disorders.
Toward this goal, we are currently investigating how axon sprouting induced by blocking myelin-associated inhibitors can be used to promote functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Our previous research demonstrated that while blocking myelin-associate inhibitors (namely Nogo, MAG, and OMgp) does not promote regeneration of injured axons, it can induce sprouting of uninjured axons in regions away from the injury site. Our next goal is to harness this sprouting ability to promote meaningful behavioral recovery.
In addition, we are also investigating the role of meningeal fibroblasts that invade the injury site after spinal cord injury. Meningeal fibroblasts, which are normally not present in the central nervous system, are thought to play a role in the glial scar formation after spinal cord injury. Although the glial scar has received a lot of attention, very little is known about how fibroblasts behave in the CNS environment despite the fact that these cells are extremely inhibitory to axonal growth. We will investigate how cells in the CNS respond to these foreign fibroblasts and whether this interaction can be targeted for therapeutic purposes.