Primary deafferetation of the spinal cord: consequences and repair strategies

Excessive force on the brachial plexus – the network of nerves in the shoulder that carry information to and from the arm and hand – can tear sensory nerve roots from the spinal cord. Traffic accidents, complications during childbirth and other situations can cause this common condition. As a result, people lose sensation and, paradoxically, develop a severe and untreatable condition called deafferentation pain. Sensation loss is permanent because sensory nerve fibres cannot regenerate into the spinal cord. However, recent studies have shown that groups of naturally occurring proteins called neurotrophic factors have the potential to promote re-growth of damaged sensory neurons, the nerve cells that carry information about touch and pain from sense organs like the skin to the cord. Some of these proteins can also prevent or reverse the deafferentation pain that results from the interruption of sensory input to the spinal cord. My research will examine the therapeutic potential of neurotrophins on regeneration in spinal cord injury and deafferentation pain. We will also assess the consequences of brachial plexus injury in the spinal cord and develop methods for assessing the resulting pain. This work will help explain why regeneration fails, and identify new therapies for treating brachial plexus and other spinal cord injuries.