A major impediment to recovery after central nervous system (CNS) injury is the failure of axons to regrow effectively. A variety of extrinsic and intrinsic factors contribute to this problem. Extrinsic factors include inhibitory proteins found i and around the injury site such as those from the glial scar as well as those associated with intact or damaged myelin. Regarding intrinsic factors, a key finding motivating this work is that Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) neurons can respond to peripheral injury with changes in gene expression that promote CNS regeneration, even in the inhibitory environment around the injury site. In contrast, CNS neurons typically fail to regenerate axons through such inhibitory regions. This implies that CNS neurons have inherent molecular differences that limit CNS regenerative capacity. The recent discovery of PTEN, SOCS3, KLF4 and KLF7 as important intrinsic regulators of CNS axon regeneration validates this hypothesis. However, the small fraction of CNS axons able to regenerate after injury, even in animals in which these genes have been manipulated, indicates that additional regulators remain to be discovered. The present proposal is to use high throughput technologies to identify genes regulating CNS regeneration by examining two related hypothesis about intrinsic factors. The first is a direct continuation of the hypothesis driving the preceding grant;i.e., that DRG neurons express RNAs that are expressed at significantly lower levels in CNS neurons and allow DRG axon regeneration. The second is that DRG neurons that have experienced a conditioning peripheral lesion express RNAs that allow regeneration and are missing (or very lowly expressed) in lesioned CNS neurons, such as the corticospinal neurons.
Aim 1 will identify these molecular differences using RNA-Seq combined with bioinformatics approaches. These methods are effective at identifying rare and potentially novel isoforms, allowing identification of targets that are important but may not be abundant or previously identified;examples include miRNAs and specific transcription factor isoforms. Candidates will be tested using phenotypic analysis in vitro.
Aim 2 will use viral vectors to transduce corticospinal tract neurons and test candidates from Aim 1, alone and in combination, using a pyramidotomy model of axonal growth. These experiments will provide novel information about the genes expressed in DRG neurons that allow them regenerate in the injured CNS. The identification of these targets and the testing of multiple candidates both in vitro and in vivo should lead to potential treatments not only for SCI, but also for other CNS disorders such as traumatic brain injury and stroke.

Public Health Relevance

These experiments are designed to identify genes expressed in nerve cells that have the ability to grow in the adult brain. These genes will be tested by placing them in neurons that cannot normally grow in this environment, to determine if they may enable therapies to promote regeneration after brain or spinal cord injury.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-MDCN-T (06))
Program Officer
Nitkin, Ralph M
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Miami School of Medicine
Schools of Medicine
Coral Gables
United States
Zip Code
Cooper, Daniel J; Zunino, Giulia; Bixby, John L et al. (2017) Phenotypic screening with primary neurons to identify drug targets for regeneration and degeneration. Mol Cell Neurosci 80:161-169
Al-Ali, Hassan; Beckerman, Samuel R; Bixby, John L et al. (2017) In vitro models of axon regeneration. Exp Neurol 287:423-434
Motti, Dario; Lerch, Jessica K; Danzi, Matt C et al. (2017) Identification of miRNAs involved in DRG neurite outgrowth and their putative targets. FEBS Lett 591:2091-2105
Lerch, Jessica K; Alexander, Jessica K; Madalena, Kathryn M et al. (2017) Stress Increases Peripheral Axon Growth and Regeneration through Glucocorticoid Receptor-Dependent Transcriptional Programs. eNeuro 4:
Zhu, Y; Lyapichev, K; Lee, D H et al. (2017) Macrophage Transcriptional Profile Identifies Lipid Catabolic Pathways That Can Be Therapeutically Targeted after Spinal Cord Injury. J Neurosci 37:2362-2376
Al-Ali, Hassan; Ding, Ying; Slepak, Tatiana et al. (2017) The mTOR Substrate S6 Kinase 1 (S6K1) Is a Negative Regulator of Axon Regeneration and a Potential Drug Target for Central Nervous System Injury. J Neurosci 37:7079-7095
Danzi, Matt C; Lemmon, Vance P (2016) Messages from forgotten friends: classic cell adhesion molecules inhibit regeneration too. EMBO J 35:1721-3
Mehta, Saloni T; Luo, Xueting; Park, Kevin K et al. (2016) Hyperactivated Stat3 boosts axon regeneration in the CNS. Exp Neurol 280:115-20
Danzi, Matt C; Motti, Dario; Avison, Donna L et al. (2016) Treatment with analgesics after mouse sciatic nerve injury does not alter expression of wound healing-associated genes. Neural Regen Res 11:144-9
Luo, Xueting; Ribeiro, Marcio; Bray, Eric R et al. (2016) Enhanced Transcriptional Activity and Mitochondrial Localization of STAT3 Co-induce Axon Regrowth in the Adult Central Nervous System. Cell Rep 15:398-410

Showing the most recent 10 out of 38 publications