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The effects of aging on spinal cord rehabilitation

Spinal cord injuries change the lives of hundreds of Louisianans every day causing permanent disability. Nowadays, older people are more active than ever before making them more susceptible to this type of injury. The average age of a person with a spinal cord injury has increased, requiring researchers to study how aging impacts recovery once the spinal cord has been damaged.

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and University of British Columbia conducted a mouse study to help better understand the impact age has on axonal regeneration in the central nervous system. Axons are used to help transmit information throughout the body.

The study looked at both young and old mice after a spinal cord injury. Typically, axons in the brain and spinal cord are not able to regenerate after an injury, making it difficult to study the effects of aging on the regeneration process. Researchers removed the Pten gene in the neurons of both young and old mice, which generally promotes regeneration in young adult mammals.

The research shows that, while deleting the Pten gene indicates an increase in regeneration in both young and old mice, the older mice were less able to regenerate past the injury site. Regeneration past the injury site is necessary to regain function. Older mice also had more issues at the injury sites than younger mice. These changes make the environment in older mice more difficult for regeneration.

Based on these results, researchers found that the regenerative abilities in mammals do decline with age. Middle-aged adults are the peak age group for paralyzing spinal cord injuries. Their ability to regenerate is significantly reduced as compared to younger adults. Researchers plan to use this information to find ways to counteract this.

Source: Health.UCSD.edu, "Aging Diminishes Spinal Cord Regeneration After Injury," accessed on March 31, 2016

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