Enhancement of neuronal regeneration by optogenetic cellular activation in C. elegans
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Large numbers of people suffer from nervous system injuries and neurodegenerative diseases each year, with little success in regaining lost neural functions. Attempts to successfully regenerate nervous tissue in the mammalian Central Nervous System have meet with limited success. Simpler models have thus been useful in determining conserved mechanisms in the enhancement of neural regeneration. One such mechanism is intracellular calcium signaling. We used <italic>Caenorhabditis elegans</italic> as a model system to study the effects of optogenetic stimulation on regeneration. Using a femtosecond laser we cut individual <italic>C. elegans</italic> axons <italic>in vivo</italic> and then periodically stimulated the neurons by activating the genetically encoded light activated channel, Channelrodopsin-2. We found that periodic photo-activation could increase regeneration over 24h by at least 31%. We repeated these experiments with dantrolene treatment and in <italic>unc-68(e540)</italic> mutants to assess the effects from a lack of internal calcium ion signaling in these worms. In both cases, we found a complete suppression of stimulated regeneration when calcium signaling was blocked. This indicates that intracellular calcium ion signaling is crucial in the initiation of neural regeneration in the first 24 hours and mediates the enhanced outgrowth we observe with periodic photo-activation. The importance of intracellular calcium ion signaling can lead to further studies to enhance the stimulation of neural regeneration, and improve therapies for patients with neural damage and loss of neural functions.