James W. Fawcett, Ph.D.,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
The Fawcett laboratory will focus its work on the extracellular matrix of the spinal cord. The matrix contains several molecules that are inhibitory to axon regeneration, particularly chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans and tenascin. In addition, the same matrix molecules are involved in controlling plasticity in the nervous system, and therefore the ability of the spinal cord to adjust its circuitry to compensate for injuries.
The laboratory will focus particularly on the glycosaminoglycan sugar chains that provide the proteoglycans with much of their inhibitory activity, with the aim of identifying enzymes which can be blocked so as to make these sugar chains less inhibitory. The laboratory will collaborate with the Bunge laboratory on developing methods of placing receptors on regenerating axons that will allow them to grow within the inhibitory extracellular matrix, with the Mendell laboratory on the processes of plasticity in the spinal cord, and with the viral vector core laboratory on developing treatments to inhibit enzymes responsible for making inhibitory proteoglycan sugar chains.