Open Access Research article

Transcriptional regulation of gene expression clusters in motor neurons following spinal cord injury

Jesper Ryge1*, Ole Winther23, Jacob Wienecke4, Albin Sandelin2, Ann-Charlotte Westerdahl1, Hans Hultborn4 and Ole Kiehn1*

Author Affiliations

1 Mammalian Locomotor Laboratory, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Retzius väg 8, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

2 Bioinformatics Centre, Department of Biology and Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen, Ole Maaloes Vej 5, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

3 DTU Informatics, Technical University of Denmark, 2800 Lyngby, Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Ole Maaloes Vej 5, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

4 Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 3, 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:365  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-365

Published: 9 June 2010



Spinal cord injury leads to neurological dysfunctions affecting the motor, sensory as well as the autonomic systems. Increased excitability of motor neurons has been implicated in injury-induced spasticity, where the reappearance of self-sustained plateau potentials in the absence of modulatory inputs from the brain correlates with the development of spasticity.


Here we examine the dynamic transcriptional response of motor neurons to spinal cord injury as it evolves over time to unravel common gene expression patterns and their underlying regulatory mechanisms. For this we use a rat-tail-model with complete spinal cord transection causing injury-induced spasticity, where gene expression profiles are obtained from labeled motor neurons extracted with laser microdissection 0, 2, 7, 21 and 60 days post injury. Consensus clustering identifies 12 gene clusters with distinct time expression profiles. Analysis of these gene clusters identifies early immunological/inflammatory and late developmental responses as well as a regulation of genes relating to neuron excitability that support the development of motor neuron hyper-excitability and the reappearance of plateau potentials in the late phase of the injury response. Transcription factor motif analysis identifies differentially expressed transcription factors involved in the regulation of each gene cluster, shaping the expression of the identified biological processes and their associated genes underlying the changes in motor neuron excitability.


This analysis provides important clues to the underlying mechanisms of transcriptional regulation responsible for the increased excitability observed in motor neurons in the late chronic phase of spinal cord injury suggesting alternative targets for treatment of spinal cord injury. Several transcription factors were identified as potential regulators of gene clusters containing elements related to motor neuron hyper-excitability, the manipulation of which potentially could be used to alter the transcriptional response to prevent the motor neurons from entering a state of hyper-excitability.