Perineuronal and perisynaptic extracellular matrix in the human spinal cord

C Jäger, D Lendvai, G Seeger, G Brückner, R T Matthews, T Arendt, A Alpár, M Morawski
Neuroscience 2013 May 15, 238: 168-84
Extracellular matrix (ECM) forms an active interface around neurons of the central nervous system (CNS). Whilst the components, chemical heterogeneity and cellular recruitment of this intercellular assembly in various parts of the brain have been discussed in detail, the spinal cord received limited attention in this context. This is in sharp contrast to its clinical relevance since the overall role of ECM especially that of its chondroitin sulphate-based proteoglycan components (CSPGs) was repeatedly addressed in neuropathology, regeneration, CNS repair and therapy models. Based on two post-mortem human specimen, this study gives the first and detailed description of major ECM components of the human spinal cord. Immunohistochemical investigations were restricted to the systematic mapping of aggrecan, brevican, proteoglycan link-protein as well as tenascin-R and hyaluronan containing matrices in the whole cranio-caudal dimension of the human spinal cord. Other proteoglycans like versican, neurocan and NG2 were exemplarily investigated in restricted areas. We show the overall presence of tenascin-R and hyaluronan in both white and grey matters whereas aggrecan, proteoglycan link-protein and brevican were restricted to the grey matter. In the grey matter, the ECM formed aggrecan-based perineuronal nets in the ventral and lateral horns but established single perisynaptic assemblies, axonal coats (ACs), containing link-protein and brevican in all regions except of the Lissauer's zone. Intersegmental differences were reflected in the appearance of segment-specific nuclei but not in overall matrix distribution pattern or chemical heterogeneity. Perineuronal nets were typically associated with long-range projection neurons including cholinergic ventral horn motorneurons or dorsal spinocerebellar tract neurons of the Clarke-Stilling nuclei. Multiple immunolabelling revealed that nociceptive afferents were devoid of individual matrix assemblies unlike glycinergic or GABAergic synapses. The detailed description of ECM distribution in the human spinal cord shall support clinical approaches in injury and regenerative therapy.

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