Human neural stem cells promote corticospinal axons regeneration and synapse reformation in injured spinal cord of rats

Peng Liang, Lian-hong Jin, Tao Liang, En-zhong Liu, Shi-guang Zhao
Chinese Medical Journal 2006 August 20, 119 (16): 1331-8

BACKGROUND: Axonal regeneration in lesioned mammalian central nervous system is abortive, and this causes permanent disabilities in individuals with spinal cord injuries. This paper studied the action of neural stem cell (NSC) in promoting corticospinal axons regeneration and synapse reformation in rats with injured spinal cord.

METHODS: NSCs were isolated from the cortical tissue of spontaneous aborted human fetuses in accordance with the ethical request. The cells were discarded from the NSC culture to acquire NSC-conditioned medium. Sixty adult Wistar rats were randomly divided into four groups (n = 15 in each): NSC graft, NSC medium, graft control and medium control groups. Microsurgical transection of the spinal cord was performed in all the rats at the T11. The NSC graft group received stereotaxic injections of NSCs suspension into both the spinal cord stumps immediately after transection; graft control group received DMEM injection. In NSC medium group, NSC-conditioned medium was administered into the spinal cord every week; NSC culture medium was administered to the medium control group. Hindlimb motor function was assessed using the BBB Locomotor Rating Scale. Regeneration of biotin dextran amine (BDA) labeled corticospinal tract was assessed. Differentiation of NSCs and the expression of synaptophysin at the distal end of the injured spinal cord were observed under a confocal microscope. Group comparisons of behavioral data were analyzed with ANOVA.

RESULTS: NSCs transplantation resulted in extensive growth of corticospinal axons and locomotor recovery in adult rats after complete spinal cord transection, the mean BBB scores reached 12.5 in NSC graft group and 2.5 in graft control group (P < 0.05). There was also significant difference in BBB score between the NSC medium (11.7) and medium control groups (3.7, P < 0.05). BDA traces regenerated fibers sprouted across the lesion site and entered the caudal part of the spinal cord. Synaptophysin expression colocalized with BDA positive axons and neurons distal to the injury site. Transplanted cells were found to migrate into the lesion, but not scatter along the route of axon grows. The cells differentiated into astrocytes or oligodendrocytes, but not into the neurons after transplantation. Furthermore, NSC medium administration did not limit the degree of axon sprouting and functional recovery of the injured rats compared to the NSC graft group.

CONCLUSIONS: Human embryonic neural stem cells can promote functional corticospinal axons regeneration and synapse reformation in the injured spinal cord of rats. The action is mainly through the nutritional effect of the stem cells on the spinal cord.

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