Sodium channel blockade with phenytoin protects spinal cord axons, enhances axonal conduction, and improves functional motor recovery after contusion SCI

Bryan C Hains, Carl Y Saab, Albert C Lo, Stephen G Waxman
Experimental Neurology 2004, 188 (2): 365-77
Accumulation of intracellular sodium through voltage-gated sodium channels (VGSCs) is an important event in the cascade leading to anatomic degeneration of spinal cord axons and poor functional outcome following traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). In this study, we hypothesized that phenytoin, a sodium channel blocker, would result in protection of axons with concomitant improvement of functional recovery after SCI. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats underwent T9 contusion SCI after being fed normal chow or chow containing phenytoin; serum levels of phenytoin were within therapeutic range at the time of injury. At various timepoints after injury, quantitative assessment of lesion volumes, axonal degeneration, axonal conduction, and functional locomotor recovery were performed. When compared to controls, phenytoin-treated animals demonstrated reductions in the degree of destruction of gray and white matter surrounding the lesion epicenter, sparing of axons within the dorsal corticospinal tract (dCST) and dorsal column (DC) system rostral to the lesion site, and within the dorsolateral funiculus (DLF) caudal to the lesion site, and enhanced axonal conduction across the lesion site. Improved performance in measures of skilled locomotor function was observed in phenytoin-treated animals. Based on these results, we conclude that phenytoin provides neuroprotection and improves functional outcome after experimental SCI, and that it merits further examination as a potential treatment strategy in human SCI.

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