Testing gene function in animal models of spinal cord injury. We package candidate genes into AAV viral vectors and inject them into brain regions affected by spinal injury. Often this is motor cortex, where corticospinal tract neurons are located (although note that more recently we have switched to retrograde gene delivery for more effective expression). Animals are then challenged with a variety of injuries that assess different aspects of axon growth including pyramidotomy, partial cervical transections, or complete thoracic crush. By mixing candidate gene vectors with AAV vectors that express fluorescent molecules we can trace the affected axons and quantify any regenerative growth. We have published manuscripts that demonstrate pro-regenerative properties of two candidate genes, KLF7 and Sox11. More recently we have found that another factor called KLF6 is even more effective (see below). A main effort in the lab now is to identify combinations of transcription factors for even more regenerative growth.
Dr. Zimei Wang is the lab expert in all things surgical