Enriched environment and astrocytes in central nervous system regeneration
Michael Nilsson and Milos Pekny
Rehabilitation medicine is entering a new era, based on the knowledge that the central nervous system has a substantial capacity for repair and regeneration. This capacity is used in 3 distinct but overlapping situations: (i) routine housekeeping throughout life (i.e. taking care of normal wear-and-tear); (ii) older age, when functional reserves of various kinds are depleted, resulting in cognitive, motor, and other deficits; and (iii) contexts in which a neurological deficit reflects an acute or chronic pathological process, such as neurotrauma, stroke, or neurodegenerative disease. The positive message here is two-fold. First, some aspects of regeneration occur even in the adult and ageing brain and spinal cord, and we are starting to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms. Secondly, novel therapeutic approaches and targets are emerging that will substantially increase the efficiency and efficacy of rehabilitation and will transform rehabilitation into a discipline focusing both on its traditional domain and on prevention, ultimately across all the age categories. This review attempts to sum up the present knowledge about an enriched environment, currently the single most efficient plasticity- and regeneration-promoting paradigm. It also summarizes research showing that astrocytes – considered only years ago merely to nurse and support neurones – are a novel and highly interesting target for regenerative strategies in the brain and spinal cord.