Scientists from the University of Edinburgh hope that a breakthrough study could pave the way for new treatments for people with spinal cord injuries, the BBC has reported.
The researchers, who looked at the damaged spines of zebrafish, said they have uncovered a “vital mechanism” that helps nerve connections regrow.
Zebrafish are capable of regaining full movement after an injury, a phenomenon which the scientists hope to mirror in humans.
They said they have pinpointed “key molecules” that prompt damaged nerve fibres in zebrafish spinal cords to regenerate themselves. Wound-healing cells, called “fibroblasts”, move to the area of damage and produce a molecule called collagen 12 – this changes the structure of the support matrix that surrounds never fibres.
The finding could hold clues in how the vital connections between the brain and muscles can be restored.
Dr Thomas Becker, of the Centre for Neuroregeneration, said: “In people and other mammals, the matrix in the injury site blocks nerves from growing back after an injury.
“We have now pinpointed the signals that remove this roadblock in zebrafish, so that nerve cells can repair connections that are lost after damage to the spinal cord.”
The researchers said they would now move to test other animals in an attempt to replicate the Zebrafish’s self-healing processes.