Evidence of axon connectivity across a spinal cord transection in rats treated with epidural stimulation and motor training combined with olfactory ensheathing cell transplantation

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Journal Article
Experimental Neurology, 2018, 309 pp. 119 - 133
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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are unique glia that support axon outgrowth in the olfactory system, and when used as cellular therapy after spinal cord injury, improve recovery and axon regeneration. Here we assessed the effects of combining OEC transplantation with another promising therapy, epidural electrical stimulation during a rehabilitative motor task. Sprague-Dawley rats received a mid-thoracic transection and transplantation of OECs or fibroblasts (FBs) followed by lumbar stimulation while climbing an inclined grid. We injected pseudorabies virus (PRV) into hindlimb muscles 7 months post-injury to assess connectivity across the transection. Analyses showed that the number of serotonergic (5-HT) axons that crossed the rostral scar border and the area of neurofilament-positive axons in the injury site were both greater in OEC- than FB-treated rats. We detected PRV-labeled cells rostral to the transection and remarkable evidence of 5-HT and PRV axons crossing the injury site in 1 OEC- and 1 FB-treated rat. The axons that crossed suggested either axon regeneration (OEC) or small areas of probable tissue sparing (FB). Most PRV-labeled thoracic neurons were detected in laminae VII or X, and ~25% expressed Chx10, a marker for V2a interneurons. These findings suggest potential regeneration or sparing of circuits that connect thoracic interneurons to lumbar somatic motor neurons. Despite evidence of axonal connectivity, no behavioral changes were detected in this small-scale study. Together these data suggest that when supplemented with epidural stimulation and climbing, OEC transplantation can increase axonal growth across the injury site and may promote recovery of propriospinal circuitry.
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