A type of brain cell that can regenerate is regulated by circadian rhythms, providing important insights into how the body’s internal clock promotes healing after traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to new research from Children’s National Hospital.
Released in the latest issue of eNeuro, The findings open new avenues for investigation of future TBI therapies. These injuries are currently managed only through supportive care and rehabilitation, rather than targeted drug treatment options. The findings also underscore the importance of addressing everyday disruptions to help the affected brain heal.
Many of the body’s cells follow a 24-hour rhythm driven by their own genes known as the circadian clock. The Children’s National Research Team found that a relatively newly discovered type of brain cell — known as NG2-glia, or oligodendrocyte precursor cells — also follows a circadian rhythm. This type of cell is one of the few that continually self-renews throughout puberty and proliferates significantly in the first week after brain injury.
“We found evidence for a role for this well-known molecular pathway – the molecular circadian clock – in regulating the ability of NG2-glial to proliferate, both at rest and after injury,” said Terry Dean, MD, PhD. Critical care specialist at the National Children’s Foundation and lead author of the paper. “This will serve as a starting point for further investigation of pathways controlling cellular regeneration and improving recovery after injury.”
Sometimes called the “silent epidemic,” it affects an estimated 69 million people worldwide each year, and injuries range from mild concussions to severe injuries that cause death or lifelong disability. In the United States alone, approximately 2.8 million people suffer TBI annually, including 630,000 children. TBI is the leading cause of death in people under the age of 45, and survivors are often left with persistent physical, cognitive and psychological disabilities.
However, there are no targeted therapies for TBI, which creates an urgent need to reveal the mechanisms that can unleash the regeneration of NG2 glial cells, which are the most common type of brain cell known to proliferate and self-renew in adult brains.
“It is essential that researchers know that cell renewal is coordinated with the time of day,” said Vittorio Gallo, PhD, interim chief academic officer and interim director of the National Children’s Research Institute. “With this knowledge, we can dig deeper into the body’s genetic healing process to understand how cells regulate and renew themselves.”