Folic acid supplementation has proved to be extremely effective in reducing the occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) and other congenital abnormalities in humans, suggesting that folic acid can modulate key mechanisms for growth and differentiation in the central nervous system (CNS). To prevent NTDs, however, supplemental folate must be provided early in gestation. This suggests that the ability of folic acid to activate growth and differentiation mechanisms may be confined to the early embryonic period. Here, we show that folic acid can enhance growth and repair mechanisms even in the adult CNS. Using lesion models of CNS injury, we found that intraperitoneal treatment of adult rats with folic acid significantly improves the regrowth of sensory spinal axons into a grafted segment of peripheral nerve in vivo. Regrowth of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons into a similar graft also was enhanced, although to a smaller extent than spinal axons. Furthermore, folic acid supplementation enhances neurological recovery from a spinal cord contusion injury, showing its potential clinical impact. The results show that the effects of folic acid supplementation on CNS growth processes are not restricted to the embryonic period, but can also be effective for enhancing growth, repair, and recovery in the injured adult CNS.
Copyright 2004 American Neurological Association