June 13, 2013
Fingernails Reveal Clues To Limb Regeneration
Researchers discover biochemical pathway that links nail growth to fingertip regeneration
Mammals possess the remarkable ability to regenerate a lost fingertip, including the nail, nerves and even bone. In humans, an amputated fingertip can sprout back in as little as two months, a phenomenon that has remained poorly understood until now. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center shed light on this rare regenerative power in mammals, using genetically engineered mice to document for the first time the biochemical chain of events that unfolds in the wake of a fingertip amputation. The findings hold promise for amputees who may one day be able to benefit from therapies that help the body regenerate lost limbs.
"When we blocked the Wnt-signaling pathway in mice with amputated fingertips, the nail and bone did not grow back as they normally would," says Dr. Ito. Even more intriguing, the researchers found that they could manipulate the Wnt pathway to stimulate regeneration in bone and tissue just beyond the fingertip. "Amputations of this magnitude ordinarily do not grow back," says Dr. Ito. These findings suggest that Wnt signaling is essential for fingertip regeneration, and point the way to therapies that could help people regenerate lost limbs. An estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. live with amputations.
The team's next step is to zoom in on the molecular mechanisms that control how the Wnt signaling pathway interacts with the nail stem cells to influence bone and nail growth.
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