Biopolymers to Enhance Growth

Micrograph of ganglion

Ganglion on 70 percent acetylcholine
polymer showing neurite growth
© Christiane Gumera

“Regeneration in the central nervous system requires neural activity, not just neuronal growth factors alone, so we thought a neurotransmitter might send the necessary signals,” said Yadong Wang, assistant professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

This new study shows that integrating neurotransmitters into biodegradable polymers results in a biomaterial that successfully promotes neurite growth, which is necessary for victims of central nervous system injury, stroke or certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Wang and graduate student Christiane Gumera developed novel biodegradable polymers with a flexible backbone that allowed neurotransmitters to be easily added as a side chain. In its current form, the polymer would be implanted via surgery to repair damaged central nerves.

For the experiments, the researchers tested polymers with different concentrations of the acetylcholine-mimicking groups. Acetylcholine was chosen because it is known to induce neurite outgrowth and promote the formation and strengthening of synapses, or connections between neurons. They isolated ganglia nervous tissue samples, placed them on the polymers and observed new neurites extend from the ganglia.

Since these neuron extensions must traverse a growth inhibiting material in the body, Wang and Gumera tested the ability of the biomaterial to enhance the extension of sprouted neurites. More specifically, they assessed whether the ganglia sprouted at least 20 neurites and then measured neurite length and neurite length distribution with an inverted phase contrast microscope.

“We found that adding 70 percent acetylcholine to the polymer induced regenerative responses similar to laminin, a benchmark material for nerve culture,” said Wang. Seventy percent acetylcholine also led to a neurite growth rate of up to 0.7 millimeters per day, or approximately half the thickness of a compact disc.; Source: Georgia Institute of Technology