Nervous System Regeneration and Repair: Lessons From the Olfactory System

The brain or central nervous system (CNS) is especially vulnerable to permanent injury and loss of function following stroke, trauma and seizure or the onset of genetic disorders such as Huntington or Parkinson disease costing billions of dollars in health care every year and long-term loss of productivity. Despite major advances in understanding of neural development in recent years, a major challenge facing neuroscientists today is how to use this knowledge to help direct repair and rebuild the CNS after it becomes damaged. Dr. Jane Roskams uses the mouse olfactory system (nose) to study CNS repair because cells in the system have a remarkable ability to remodel, repair and regenerate, compared to other regions of the CNS. Olfactory system repair is driven by two types of cells — one that replaces lost neurons (specialized olfactory stem cells) and another that guides these replacement cells to their target (olfactory glial cells). As part of the only team in the world focused on these complementary research areas, Dr. Roskams has developed a series of tools and approaches to determine which specific cells are activated to replace damaged neurons, and to test the signals that drive this activity. She is also working to determine the unique ways that these cells contribute to repair following spinal cord injury and stroke. While transplanting either of these types of cells into injured or damaged CNS tissue could help with repair. Dr. Roskams’ work is focused on understanding how repair mechanisms work at the molecular level, with the goal of discovering if there are ways that injured cells might be manipulated into repairing themselves — a potential new way of addressing or preventing long-term CNS damage.