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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The temporal and spatial profiles of cell loss following experimental spinal cord injury: effect of antioxidant therapy on cell death and functional recovery

Xiang Ling1, Feng Bao1, Hao Qian1 and Danxia Liu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, University of Texas Medical Branch, 301 University Blvd., Rt. 0881, Galveston, TX 77555-0881, USA

2 Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, 301 University Blvd., Rt. 0881, Galveston, TX 77555-0881, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:146  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-146

Published: 18 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI)-induced overproduction of endogenous deleterious substances triggers secondary cell death to spread damage beyond the initial injury site. Substantial experimental evidence supports reactive species (RS) as important mediators of secondary cell death after SCI. This study established quantitative temporal and spatial profiles of cell loss, characterized apoptosis, and evaluated the effectiveness of a broad spectrum RS scavenger - Mn (III) tetrakis (4-benzoic acid) porphyrin (MnTBAP) and a combination of MnTBAP plus nitro-L-arginine to prevent cell loss and neurological dysfunction following contusion SCI to the rat spinal cord.

Results

By counting the number of surviving cells in spinal cord sections removed at 1, 6, 12, 24, 48, 72 h and 1 week post-SCI and at 0 – 4 mm from the epicenter, the temporal and spatial profiles of motoneuron and glia loss were established. Motoneurons continued to disappear over a week and the losses decreased with increasing distance from the epicenter. Significant glia loss peaked at 24 to 48 h post-SCI, but only at sections 0–1.5 mm from the epicenter. Apoptosis of neurons, motoneurons and astrocytes was characterized morphologically by double immuno-staining with cell-specific markers and apoptosis indicators and confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. DNA laddering, ELISA quantitation and caspase-3 activation in the spinal cord tissue indicated more intense DNA fragments and greater caspase-3 activation in the epicenter than at 1 and 2 cm away from the epicenter or the sham-operated sections. Intraperitoneal treatment with MnTBAP + nitro-L-arginine significantly reduced motoneuron and cell loss and apoptosis in the gray and white matter compared with the vehicle-treated group. MnTBAP alone significantly reduced the number of apoptotic cells and improved functional recovery as evaluated by three behavioral tests.

Conclusions

Our temporal and spatial profiles of cell loss provide data bases for determining the time and location for pharmacological intervention. Our demonstration that apoptosis follows SCI and that MnTBAP alone or MnTBAP + nitro-L-arginine significantly reduces apoptosis correlates SCI-induced apoptosis with RS overproduction. MnTBAP significantly improved functional recovery, which strongly supports the important role of antioxidant therapy in treating SCI and the candidacy of MnTBAP for such treatment.

Keywords:
Antioxidant therapy; Apoptotic cell death; Behavioral test; Mn (III) tetrakis (4-benzoic acid) porphyrin; Nitro-L-arginine; Secondary spinal cord injury