The National Institutes of Health (US) recently funded a study that focused on how high-contrast visual stimulation helps repair damaged retinal neurons in mice by stimulating the regrowth of optic nerve fibers.
These fibers, called retinal ganglion cell axons, are very long, thin cells that connect the eyes to the brain. Vision is severely diminished or lost completely when they become damaged, and under natural circumstances these cells do not regenerate or heal on their own.
Through the process of several experiments, which involved exposing mice to high-contrast, black and white checkerboard patterns, as well as chemically induced neural stimulation, axons were regrown more successfully that in any other previous attempt.
“Reconnecting neurons in the visual system is one of the biggest challenges to developing regenerative therapies for blinding eye diseases like glaucoma,” said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “This research shows that mammals have a greater capacity for central nervous system regeneration than previously known.”
The blindness in the mice was artificially induced by the scientists be causing specifically targeted damage to the optic nerve. Then, for several hours a day, the mice were placed in a containment area that was lined with patterns of black and white lines and boxes. Over the course of three weeks significant axonal regrowth was observed in comparison to mice that received no treatment at all.