The role of macrophages in recovery from nerve injury is controversial. Some studies show that macrophages improve regeneration, but others show the opposite effect. This week, each side of the controversy gains support. After crushing a peripheral nerve in mice, Barrette et al. locally depleted myeloid white blood cells (both granulocytes and macrophages) that expressed a specific protein. This reduced axonal regeneration and functional recovery. Depletion of myeloid cells in peripheral nerve grafts, which normally permit some regeneration of spinal axons, rendered the grafts unable to support such growth. Additional experiments suggested that myeloid cells normally enhance regeneration by clearing myelin debris (which is likely to contain growth-inhibiting molecules), secreting growth-promoting neurotrophic factors (likely from granulocytes, rather than macrophages), and stimulating the growth of new blood vessels, which axons often grow along as they regenerate.
Macrophages Promote Regeneration
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