A chemical that enables bacteria to invade cells may help to improve the prognosis of spinal and brain injury rehabilitation, scientists have said.
Scientists at Cambridge's Centre for Brain Repair found that in rats which were treated with an enzyme called chondroitinase, the length of time that the nervous system was responsive to rehabilitation increased, potentially paving the way for faster and more effective treatments.
The enzyme destroys molecules called chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPGs), which prevent the formation of new connections between cells in the nervous system that are required to restore neurological function.
Rats which were given chondroitinase treatment and underwent rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury largely regained their ability to grasp objects with their paws.
"The discovery opens up the possibility that rehabilitation for neurological conditions can be made much faster and much more effective by giving treatment such as chondroitinase to make the nervous system plastic," said the researchers.
The study will be presented at a conference of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies.