Axons are the long thread-like part of neurons along which electrical signals are conducted along to other cells.
Growth cones are fascinating extensions of an axon, which seek its distant synaptic target – they are like a hand with wiggling fingers that sense the surrounding environment. Guided by these tiny hand-like structures, axons in the human body can be up to 50 cm long, stretching from the brain down the spinal cord to find its correct target connection. This is the equivalent of a person in Auckland growing their hand all the way to Dunedin and finding a specific person guided only by their perfume.
You can also imagine how disruptive it would be to break these long communication pathways in the form of a spinal cord injury. Here at the Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility, within the Centre for Brain Research, we are creating new ways to stimulate growth cone regeneration to form new functional connections after injury.
Jarred Griffin, BSc (Hons), PhD Candidate, Spinal Cord Injury Research Facility, Auckland University