Many neurobiologists spurn the existence and use of direct-current (DC) electric fields (EFs) in nervous system development and regeneration. This is despite direct measurement of EFs in embryos and adults, and evidence that EFs are required for normal development, dramatically influence the rate and direction of nerve growth in vitro, and promote nerve regeneration in vivo. The notion that growth cones use EFs as guidance cues was dismissed partly because there was no convincing evidence that naturally occurring EFs influence nerve growth at the single-cell level in vivo. Recent work indicates that growth cones can be guided by EFs in vivo and, intriguingly, that in vitro guidance by chemotropic gradients and EFs might invoke similar mechanisms. Ongoing clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of DC EFs in promoting the regeneration of human spinal cord could allow EFs to achieve their potential.
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