Gene therapy may help brain heal from stroke, other injuries

genetically modified astrocytes
Genetically modified astrocytes (red) line the lesion border in the injured spinal cord. Credit: Meifan Amy Chen, Ph.D.

Scientists have found a genetic trigger that may improve the brain’s ability to heal from strokes, concussions, and other debilitating injuries.

The study published in Cell Reports found that the LZK gene of astrocytes can be turned on to prompt a recovery response called astrogliosis, in which these star-shaped cells proliferate around injured neurons and form a scar.

“We’ve known that astrocytes can help the brain and spinal cord recover from injury, but we didn’t fully understand the trigger that activates these cells,” said Dr. Mark Goldberg, Chairman of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern.

“It has been a big mystery whether increasing astrocyte reactivity would be beneficial,” said Dr. Meifan Amy Chen, the study’s lead author and Instructor of Neurology at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. “The discovery of LZK as an on switch now offers a molecular tool to answer this question.”

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