NIH logoPreviously we came across a research suggesting spinal cord injury to be treated by stem cell therapy. Effects of spinal cord injury vary with severe injuries leading to complete paralysis below the injury site. Researchers from National Institutes of Health reveal that vitamin folate enhanced healing process of the damaged spinal cord tissue among rats. This was mainly done by stimulating a change in DNA. They further share that healing effects of the vitamin improved with higher doses until regrowth of the damaged tissue reached the maximum level.

Folate occurs naturally in leafy vegetables and other foodstuffs. In order to supplement cereal grains in the United States synthetic form folic acid is used. This vitamin is essential for the development of brain and spinal cord in the early embryo. The U. S. Public Health Service suggests all women of child bearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. This helps to lower the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect, a problem specifically of the brain and spinal cord.

Further this regrowth was observed to decline gradually with higher doses until it reached the level seen in the absence of the vitamins. Folate stimulated a process in which chemical compounds known as methyl groups are attached to DNA. This process is known as DNA methylation. New techniques to enhance healing of damaged spinal cords and other nervous system injuries may be introduced by understanding chemical sequences linked with folate metabolism and DNA methylation.

Further analysis is required to examine what role folate may play in the treatment of human beings with spinal cord injury. Folate fact sheet of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements includes details about folate in human nutrition, including dietary sources of the vitamin and appropriate daily intake. New field of epigenetics includes adding methyl groups to modify the working of DNA. Initially working of a gene was modified by mutation.

Bermans J. Iskandar, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shares, “The ability to change gene function through DNA methylation suggests exciting new prospects for understanding the origins of disease and for developing new treatments. Our research showed that folate, a commonly available dietary supplement known to change gene functioning, did so in a way that fosters nervous system repair.”

Researchers examined if the vitamin could enhance healing in damaged adult nervous system tissue due to folate’s role in fetal spinal cord progression. Previous analyses reveal that folate improves regrowth of axons or nerve fibers among rats with spinal cord injury. In the current investigation researchers evaluated the effect of folate at various doses. They observed that as the dose increased the amount of axon regrowth augmented.

Dr. Iskandar reveals, “Interestingly, the more folate we gave, the more regrowth we saw, eventually achieving almost a tenfold increase in axonal regeneration. Injuring the spinal cord seems to enhance its ability to receive folate in its cells”.

The effect lowered beyond the peak dose of 80 micrograms per kilogram of body weight without causing toxicity or nerve damage. Researchers undertook additional analysis to examine how folate helps repair damaged axons. They observed that the injured nerve tissue started forming surface receptors for folate. It fits into the receptors and is further absorbed into the nerve cell. Due to this the nerve cells began forming enzymes that link methyl groups to DNA. The nerve process got distorted when folate was blocked chemically from binding to the nerve cells or by restricting methylation enzymes.

At various doses of folate researchers tested the methylation of spinal cord DNA. They observed that DNA methylation increased at a dose of 80 micrograms folate per kilogram of body weight that was similar to the regrowth of axons.

These findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.