Chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) inhibit repair following spinal cord injury. Here we use mammalian-compatible engineered chondroitinase ABC (ChABC) delivered via lentiviral vector (LV-ChABC) to explore the consequences of large-scale CSPG digestion for spinal cord repair. We demonstrate significantly reduced secondary injury pathology in adult rats following spinal contusion injury and LV-ChABC treatment, with reduced cavitation and enhanced preservation of spinal neurons and axons at 12 weeks postinjury, compared with control (LV-GFP)-treated animals. To understand these neuroprotective effects, we investigated early inflammatory changes following LV-ChABC treatment. Increased expression of the phagocytic macrophage marker CD68 at 3 d postinjury was followed by increased CD206 expression at 2 weeks, indicating that large-scale CSPG digestion can alter macrophage phenotype to favor alternatively activated M2 macrophages. Accordingly, ChABC treatment in vitro induced a significant increase in CD206 expression in unpolarized monocytes stimulated with conditioned medium from spinal-injured tissue explants. LV-ChABC also promoted the remodelling of specific CSPGs as well as enhanced vascularity, which was closely associated with CD206-positive macrophages. Neuroprotective effects of LV-ChABC corresponded with improved sensorimotor function, evident as early as 1 week postinjury, a time point when increased neuronal survival correlated with reduced apoptosis. Improved function was maintained into chronic injury stages, where improved axonal conduction and increased serotonergic innervation were also observed. Thus, we demonstrate that ChABC gene therapy can modulate secondary injury processes, with neuroprotective effects that lead to long-term improved functional outcome and reveal novel mechanistic evidence that modulation of macrophage phenotype may underlie these effects.
In the hippocampus, as in many other CNS areas, nitric oxide (NO) participates in synaptic plasticity, manifested as changes in pre- and/or postsynaptic function. While it is known that these changes are brought about by cGMP following activation of guanylyl cyclase-coupled NO receptors attempts to locate cGMP by immunocytochemistry in hippocampal slices in response to NO have failed to detect the cGMP elevation where expected, i.e. in the pyramidal neurones. Instead, astrocytes, unidentified varicose fibres and GABA-ergic nerve terminals are reported to be the prominent NO targets, raising the possibility that NO acts indirectly via other cells. We have re-investigated the distribution of cGMP generated in response to endogenous and exogenous NO in hippocampal slices using immunohistochemistry and new conditions designed to optimise cGMP accumulation and, hence, its detectability. The conditions included use of tissue from the developing rat hippocampus, a potent inhibitor of phosphodiesterase-2, and an allosteric enhancer of the NO-receptive guanylyl cyclase. Under these conditions, cGMP was formed in response to endogenous NO and was found in a population of pyramidal cell somata in area CA3 and subiculum as well as in structures described previously. The additional presence of exogenous NO resulted in hippocampal cGMP reaching the highest level recorded for brain tissue (1700 pmol/mg protein) and in cGMP immunolabelling throughout the pyramidal cell layer. Populations of axons and interneurones were also stained. According with these results, immunohistochemistry for the common NO receptor ?1-subunit indicated widespread expression. A similar staining pattern for the ?1-subunit with an antibody used previously in the hippocampus and elsewhere, however, proved to be artefactual. The results indicate that the targets of NO in the hippocampus are more varied and extensive than previous evidence had suggested and, in particular, that the pyramidal neurones participating in NO-dependent synaptic plasticity are direct NO targets.
In the majority of spinal cord injuries (SCIs), some axonal projections remain intact. We examined the functional status of these surviving axons since they represent a prime therapeutic target. Using a novel electrophysiological preparation, adapted from techniques used to study primary demyelination, we quantified conduction failure across a SCI and studied conduction changes over time in adult rats with a moderate severity spinal contusion (150 kdyn; Infinite Horizon impactor). By recording antidromically activated single units from teased dorsal root filaments, we demonstrate complete conduction block in ascending dorsal column axons acutely (1-7 d) after injury, followed by a period of restored conduction over the subacute phase (2-4 weeks), with no further improvements in conduction at chronic stages (3-6 months). By cooling the lesion site, additional conducting fibers could be recruited, thus revealing a population of axons that are viable but unable to conduct under normal physiological conditions. Importantly, this phenomenon is still apparent at the most chronic (6 month) time point. The time course of conduction changes corresponded with changes in behavioral function, and ultrastructural analysis of dorsal column axons revealed extensive demyelination during the period of conduction block, followed by progressive remyelination. A proportion of dorsal column axons remained chronically demyelinated, suggesting that these are the axons recruited with the cooling paradigm. Thus, using a clinically relevant SCI model, we have identified a population of axons present at chronic injury stages that are intact but fail to conduct and are therefore a prime target for therapeutic strategies to restore function.
Nitric oxide (NO) is a widespread signaling molecule with potentially multifarious actions of relevance to health and disease. A fundamental determinant of how it acts is its concentration, but there remains a lack of coherent information on the patterns of NO release from its sources, such as neurons or endothelial cells, in either normal or pathological conditions. We have used detector cells having the highest recorded NO sensitivity to monitor NO release from brain tissue quantitatively and in real time. Stimulation of NMDA receptors, which are coupled to activation of neuronal NO synthase, routinely generated NO signals from neurons in cerebellar slices. The average computed peak NO concentrations varied across the anatomical layers of the cerebellum, from 12 to 130 pm. The mean value found in the hippocampus was 200 pm. Much variation in the amplitudes recorded by individual detector cells was observed, this being attributable to their location at variable distances from the NO sources. From fits to the data, the NO concentrations at the source surfaces were 120 pm to 1.4 nm, and the underlying rates of NO generation were 36-350 nm/s, depending on area. Our measurements are 4-5 orders of magnitude lower than reported by some electrode recordings in cerebellum or hippocampus. In return, they establish coherence between the NO concentrations able to elicit physiological responses in target cells through guanylyl cyclase-linked NO receptors, the concentrations that neuronal NO synthase is predicted to generate locally, and the concentrations that neurons actually produce.
Nitric oxide (NO) functions as a diffusible transmitter in most tissues of the body and exerts its effects by binding to receptors harboring a guanylyl cyclase transduction domain, resulting in cGMP accumulation in target cells. Despite its widespread importance, very little is known about how this signaling pathway operates at physiological NO concentrations and in real time. To address these deficiencies, we have exploited the properties of a novel cGMP biosensor, named ?-FlincG, expressed in cells containing varying mixtures of NO-activated guanylyl cyclase and cGMP-hydrolyzing phosphodiesterase activity. Responsiveness to NO, signifying a physiologically relevant rise in cGMP to 30 nM or more, was seen at concentrations as low as 1 pM, making cells by far the most sensitive NO detectors yet encountered. Even cells coexpressing phosphodiesterase-5, a cGMP-activated isoform found in many NO target cells, responded to NO in concentrations as low as 10 pM. The dynamics of NO capture and signal transduction was revealed by administering timed puffs of NO from a local pipette. A puff lasting only 100 ms, giving a calculated peak intracellular NO concentration of 23 pM, was detectable. The results could be encapsulated in a quantitative model of cellular NO-cGMP signaling, which recapitulates the NO responsiveness reported previously from crude cGMP measurements on native cells, and which explains how NO is able to exert physiological effects at extremely low concentrations, when only a tiny proportion of its receptors would be occupied.
Chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPGs) are extracellular matrix molecules whose inhibitory activity is attenuated by the enzyme chondroitinase ABC (ChABC). Here we assess whether CSPG degradation can promote compensatory sprouting of the intact corticospinal tract (CST) following unilateral injury and restore function to the denervated forelimb. Adult C57BL/6 mice underwent unilateral pyramidotomy and treatment with either ChABC or a vehicle control. Significant impairments in forepaw symmetry were observed following pyramidotomy, with injured mice preferentially using their intact paw during spontaneous vertical exploration of a cylinder. No recovery on this task was observed in vehicle-treated mice. However, ChABC-treated mice showed a marked recovery of function, with forelimb symmetry fully restored by 5 weeks post-injury. Functional recovery was associated with robust sprouting of the uninjured CST, with numerous axons observed crossing the midline in the brainstem and spinal cord and terminating in denervated grey matter. CST fibres in the denervated side of the spinal cord following ChABC treatment were closely associated with the synaptic marker vGlut1. Immunohistochemical assessment of chondroitin-4-sulphate revealed that CSPGs were heavily digested around lamina X, alongside midline crossing axons and in grey matter regions where sprouting axons and reduced peri-neuronal net staining was observed. Thus, we demonstrate that CSPG degradation promotes midline crossing and reinnervation of denervated target regions by intact CST axons and leads to restored function in the denervated forepaw. Enhancing compensatory sprouting using ChABC provides a route to restore function that could be applied to disorders such as spinal cord injury and stroke.
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