Functional connections are established in the deafferented rat spinal cord by peripherally transplanted human embryonic sensory neurons

A Levinsson, H Holmberg, J Schouenborg, A Seiger, H Aldskogius, E N Kozlova
European Journal of Neuroscience 2000, 12 (10): 3589-95
Functionally useful repair of the mature spinal cord following injury requires axon growth and the re-establishment of specific synaptic connections. We have shown previously that axons from peripherally grafted human embryonic dorsal root ganglion cells grow for long distances in adult host rat dorsal roots, traverse the interface between the peripheral and central nervous system, and enter the spinal cord to arborize in the dorsal horn. Here we show that these transplants mediate synaptic activity in the host spinal cord. Dorsal root ganglia from human embryonic donors were transplanted in place of native adult rat ganglia. Two to three months after transplantation the recipient rats were examined anatomically and physiologically. Human fibres labelled with a human-specific axon marker were distributed in superficial as well as deep laminae of the recipient rat spinal cord. About 36% of the grafted neurons were double labelled following injections of the fluorescent tracers MiniRuby into the sciatic and Fluoro-Gold into the lower lumbar spinal cord, indicating that some of the grafted neurons had grown processes into the spinal cord as well as towards the denervated peripheral targets. Electrophysiological recordings demonstrated that the transplanted human dorsal roots conducted impulses that evoked postsynaptic activity in dorsal horn neurons and polysynaptic reflexes in ipsilateral ventral roots. The time course of the synaptic activation indicated that the human fibres were non-myelinated or thinly myelinated. Our findings show that growing human sensory nerve fibres which enter the adult deafferentated rat spinal cord become anatomically and physiologically integrated into functional spinal circuits.

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