Following spinal cord injury (SCI) there are drastic changes that occur in the spinal microvasculature, including ischemia, hemorrhage, endothelial cell death and blood-spinal cord barrier disruption. Vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) is a pleiotropic factor recognized for its pro-angiogenic properties; however, VEGF has recently been shown to provide neuroprotection. We hypothesized that delivery of AdV-ZFP-VEGF--an adenovirally delivered bio-engineered zinc-finger transcription factor that promotes endogenous VEGF-A expression--would result in angiogenesis, neuroprotection and functional recovery following SCI. This novel VEGF gene therapy induces the endogenous production of multiple VEGF-A isoforms; a critical factor for proper vascular development and repair. Briefly, female Wistar rats--under cyclosporin immunosuppression--received a 35 g clip-compression injury and were administered AdV-ZFP-VEGF or AdV-eGFP at 24 hours post-SCI. qRT-PCR and Western Blot analysis of VEGF-A mRNA and protein, showed significant increases in VEGF-A expression in AdV-ZFP-VEGF treated animals (p<0.001 and p<0.05, respectively). Analysis of NF200, TUNEL, and RECA-1 indicated that AdV-ZFP-VEGF increased axonal preservation (p<0.05), reduced cell death (p<0.01), and increased blood vessels (p<0.01), respectively. Moreover, AdV-ZFP-VEGF resulted in a 10% increase in blood vessel proliferation (p<0.001). Catwalk™ analysis showed AdV-ZFP-VEGF treatment dramatically improves hindlimb weight support (p<0.05) and increases hindlimb swing speed (p<0.02) when compared to control animals. Finally, AdV-ZFP-VEGF administration provided a significant reduction in allodynia (p<0.01). Overall, the results of this study indicate that AdV-ZFP-VEGF administration can be delivered in a clinically relevant time-window following SCI (24 hours) and provide significant molecular and functional benefits.
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