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Seeing a path to nerve regeneration

'This opens a whole new novel realm of research. It could help glaucoma and other types of nerve damage'
March 29, 2024

A team of researchers in the lab of UConn School of Medicine neuroscientist Ephraim Trakhtenberg have shown that a protein called nuclear factor erythroid 3 (Nfe3) can stimulate regrowth of nerve cells. The protein is unique to nerves originating in the retina.

“This opens a whole new novel realm of research. It could help glaucoma and other types of nerve damage,” according to Trakhtenberg.

Blindness and vision impairment due to optic nerve damage affect more than 3 million people in the US alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The most common reason for that damage is glaucoma, a family of eye diseases that affect the flow of liquid in the eye, eventually damaging the long bundle of cells that connect the retina to the brain. That bundle of cells is the optic nerve. They don’t grow back after being damaged, leading to permanent vision loss.

Trakhtenberg and colleagues suspected that Nfe3 played some specific role in nerve growth, and that they might be able to harness it to regrow nerves after injury. They took adult mice with crushed optic nerves and stimulated Nfe3 production using a gene therapy. Just as the researchers hoped, individual nerve fibers in the mice’s damaged optic nerves began to regrow. 

The regrowth was significant, about as good as the best regenerative factors previously known. But Nfe3 is different, and more promising, than some of those other regeneration factors. Some of these other regenerative factors have downsides: they tend to cause inflammation, or risk inducing tumors. Nfe3 has no similar problems.