New study may help create a pathway for nerve regeneration after injury

Neutrophils are one of the most common types of immune cells and are known to consume microorganisms. Traditionally, neutrophils are not associated with peripheral nerve damage. This new study however, suggests that neutrophils may play a significant role in nerve disorders.

The study, conducted by Richard Zigmond, PhD, senior author and professor of neurosciences, neurosurgery and pathology at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; found that damaged nerve cells produce a flow of molecular lures that attract neutrophils to injury sites.

In the damaged sciatic nerves of mice, hundreds of times the normal number of chemoattractant molecules (Cxcl1 and CXcl2) was produced. The molecules then attached themselves to the surfaces of neutrophils that subsequently attracted immune cells into the injured tissue.

Once at the injury site neutrophils consume the cellular debris caused by nerve damage, clearing-out the injury site which then enables the cells to repair themselves.

Commenting on the study Zigmond said:

"The clearance of debris after an injury is necessary to allow for effective nerve regeneration. Therefore, if one would want to enhance this clearance in patients, one would need to know what cells to target."

The results from the study suggest that the immunostimulant molecules that target neutrophils at injury sites can clean-up the area and promote nerve cell repair. Immunostimulant molecules are regularly used to treat chronic infections and immunodeficiencies, but additional study is needed to establish whether they can be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Jane Lindborg, the PhD student who analysed the findings said:

"We have identified a novel and beneficial role for neutrophils in facilitating debris removal after injury, which has been shown to be an important step in promoting regeneration of the severed nerve. We look forward to exploring exactly how these neutrophils work in concert with other cells to accomplish nerve regeneration."

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