_MEDICINE Neurobiology

_Breathing Free

In a pre-clinical study, College of Medicine neuroscientists showed that lab-grown V2a interneurons contribute to a paralyzed body's ability to self-repair and improve respiratory health.

_Michael Lane

Lane is an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy.

_Lyandysha Zholudeva

Zholudeva is a doctoral candidate in the College of Medicine.

Paralyzed patients are closer to one day breathing without a ventilator after Drexel’s College of Medicine researchers showed they could improve respiratory function in rodents with spinal cord injuries by successfully transplanting a special class of neural cells, called V2a interneurons.

“Our previous study showed that V2a interneurons contribute to plasticity, or the ability of the spinal cord to achieve some level of self-repair. This study capitalized on those findings by demonstrating that we can grow these cells from stem cells, that they survive in an injured spinal cord, and that they can actually improve recovery,” says Assistant Professor of Neurobiology Michael Lane, the principal investigator.


Scientists at Drexel’s College of Medicine and the University of Texas differentiated embryonic stem cells into V2a interneurons and combined them with neural progenitor cells from a rodent spinal cord. In green, neural progenitor cells that become neurons and glia; in purple, V2a interneurons that are maturing into neurons; in cyan, transplanted neurons that come from the neural progenitor cells.

Though spinal cord injury impacts a wide range of motor systems, recent evidence suggests the body is capable of spontaneous improvement, through growth of nerve fibers and the formation of new circuits. Lane’s laboratory studies this natural phenomenon in hopes of treating a potentially fatal side effect of paralysis: poor respiratory health. Not only do patients with these injuries require mechanical assistance to breathe, but they are also prone to lung congestion and respiratory infections.

“By understanding the body’s own attempt at repair, we hope to amplify that process therapeutically with cell transplantation and rehabilitation,” says Lyandysha Zholudeva, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in the College of Medicine. “Now we’ve identified one of the cell types that contributes to the formation of new pathways.”