Miami Project Researcher Kevin Park Co-Authors Manuscript in Nature

Dr. Kevin Park Co-Authors in NATURE Journal

December 15, 2011 – Researcher Dr. Kevin Park, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and colleagues, today published a manuscript in the preeminent journal Nature, that demonstrates the deletion of two genes, phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) and suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3), which are highly expressed in the injured central nervous system (CNS) neurons, promotes continued and significant long-tract regeneration following CNS injury.

The study, conducted with colleagues at F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Harvard Medical School, and led by Dr. Zhigang He, was conducted on damaged optic nerves, which are part of the CNS.  These findings may ultimately provide an important avenue to researchers currently unraveling the mysteries of spinal cord injury (SCI) and other neurodegenerative disorders since long distance axonal regeneration has, until this point, proved difficult to attain.  It is widely felt among experts that long distance regeneration is an essential component to functional recovery following CNS injury, which is why these results are exciting to neuroscientists.

“This is truly an exciting time in paralysis and CNS injury research.  Each day we are answering more questions that provide us another piece of the puzzle,” said Miami Project Scientific Director, Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich.  “As our researchers continue to obtain more critical information, viable solutions and strategies for ultimately treating paralysis come into clearer view.  We hope to then move these promising therapies for testing in the clinic in the near future.”

Axons of the mammalian CNS) typically do not regenerate after injury. Developing a strategy to promote regeneration and functional reconnection of injured CNS axons has been a long standing challenge, and central to The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis’ mission. This study demonstrated for the first time that simultaneous removal of both the PTEN and SOCS3 genes, which are highly expressed in injured neurons, allows sustained and robust long distance axon regeneration in the optic nerve after injury.  In addition, this study showed that double deletion of these genes works synergistically to regulate activation and expression of several growth-related genes that improve axon regeneration. Stemming from this finding, future work in this area will be directed at examining whether the regenerated axons after PTEN/SOCS3 deletion can reform synapses and restore behavioral functions.

Injury to the CNS has devastating effects on the structure and function of the brain and spinal cord.  Since the early 1980s, immense research progress has been made and has given hope that injuries to the CNS will one day be repairable. Still, there is much that researchers need to learn about the complex processes that occur in the brain and spinal cord after injury, and how those processes can be changed or reversed.

Miami Project investigators daily are conducting a broad scope of research to address the consequences of these neurological injuries. Our work is directed at the following areas: understanding what happens after CNS injury; protecting the injured brain and spinal cord from further damage, replacing dead nervous system cells (neurons and glia), promoting and guiding axon growth, reestablishing essential circuitry, preventing and treating complications, maintaining maximum potential for recovery, and ultimately translating our findings from laboratory research to clinical trials.