Researchers have found a possible breakthrough for spinal cord injuries with a find that a one-time injection of a protein into the cord immediately after an injury can limit pain for an extended period of time.

The researchers led by the Cleveland Clinic found that the naturally existing protein in humans, fibronectin, supports the survival, growth and communication of neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

Testing this in an animal model, the researchers showed that an injection of fibronectin into the spinal cord activates specific signaling pathways resulting in pain-curbing effects.

"We are very pleased with the results from the fibronectin injection," said Ching-Yi Lin, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Neurosciences in Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute.

"Perhaps this will signal a change in pain management after spinal cord injury."

Chronic Pain Causes

Past research has shown that spinal cord injury increases the permeability of the blood-spinal cord barrier, which causes chronic pain due to exposure of the spinal cord to inflammatory cells,

While the paralysis is a problem, the authors say that “pain is particularly an important problem after spinal cord injury since the type of pain that ensues after a spinal cord injury is considered even more debilitating than the paralysis itself.”

Fibroconectin, Pain Link Unclear

The authors said that the connection between fibronectin and chronic pain relief is not yet clear but the results do indicate “fibronectin not only maintained the integrity of the blood-spinal cord barrier but also suppressed the inflammatory response significantly over an eight-month period.”

Fibronectin reversed spinal cord injury-induced decreases in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in pain perception.

The researchers say that the next step is to test the delayed fibronectin treatment on the inhibition of chronic pain after spinal cord injury.

They also pointed out that there is an “indication that this treatment also works at later time points.”