A single re-implanted ventral root exerts neurotropic effects over multiple spinal cord segments in the adult rat

Thao X Hoang, Leif A Havton
Experimental Brain Research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Expérimentation Cérébrale 2006, 169 (2): 208-17
Spinal cord injuries, particularly traumatic injuries to the conus medullaris and cauda equina, are typically complex and involve multiple segmental levels. Implantation of avulsed ventral roots into the spinal cord as a repair strategy has been shown to be neuroprotective and promote axonal regeneration by spinal cord neurons into an implanted root. However, it is not well known over what distance in the spinal cord an implanted ventral root can exert its neurotropic effect. Here, we investigated whether an avulsed L6 ventral root acutely implanted into the rat spinal cord after a four level (L5-S2) unilateral ventral root avulsion injury may exert neurotropic effects on autonomic and motor neurons over multiple spinal cord segments at 6 weeks postoperatively. Using retrograde labeling techniques and stereological quantification methods, we demonstrate that autonomic and motor neurons from all four lesioned spinal cord segments, spanning more than an 8 mm rostro-caudal distance, reinnervated the one implanted root. The rostro-caudal distribution suggested a gradient of neurotropism, where the axotomized neurons closest to the implanted site had the highest probability of root reinnervation. These results suggest that implantation of a single ventral root may provide neurotropic effects to injured neurons at the site of lesion as well as in the adjacent spinal cord segments. Our findings may be of translational research interest for the development of surgical repair strategies after multi-level conus medullaris and cauda equina injuries, in which fewer ventral roots than spinal cord segments may be available for implantation.

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