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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effect of Lycium barbarum on spinal cord injury, particularly its relationship with M1 and M2 macrophage in rats

Yu-Kai Zhang1, Jian Wang1, Ling Liu1, Raymond Chuen-Chung Chang234, Kwok-Fai So2345* and Gong Ju1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Neurosciences, Fourth Military Medical University, Chang Le Xi Road, Xi’an, Shan Xi, 710032, China

2 Laboratory of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Department of Anatomy, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

3 Research Centre of Heart, Brain, Hormone and Healthy Aging, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

4 State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

5 Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, 1/F Laboratory Block, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:67  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-67

Published: 22 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Our past researches suggested that L. barbarum exhibits direct neuroprotective and immune regulatory effects on the central nervous system, which are highly related to the events involved in the spinal cord injury, but not yet been investigated. Immune responses play an important role in the development of the pathology after secondary injury, particularly the M1 and M2 types of macrophage, on which special emphasis was laid in this study.

Methods

In our previous studies L. barbarum was administrated orally from 7 days before the injury to ensure a stabilized concentration in the blood. For clinical application, L. barbarum can only be administered after the injury. Therefore, both pre-injury and post-injury administration protocols were compared. In vivo and in vitro studies were conducted and analyzed immunohistochemically, including Western blotting.

Results

The lesion size in the pre-treated group was much larger than that in the post-treated group. To explain this difference, we first studied the effect of L. barbarum on astrocytes, which forms the glial scar encircling the lesion. L. barbarum did not significantly affect the astrocytes. Then we studied the effect of L. barbarum on microglia/macrophages, particularly the M1 and M2 polarization. After spinal cord injury, the deleterious M1 cells dominant the early period, whereas the beneficial M2 cells dominate later. We found that in the pre-treated group L. barbarum significantly enhanced the expression of M1 cells and suppressed that of M2 cells, while in the post-treated group LBP markedly promoted the activity of M2 cells. This explained the difference between the pre- and post-treated groups.

Conclusions

Lycium barbarum has been wildly accepted to have beneficial effects in various central nervous system diseases. Our finding of deleterious effect of LBP administered at early period of spinal cord injury, indicates that its application should be avoided. The substantial beneficial effect of LBP when administered at later stage has an important impact for clinical application.

Keywords:
L. barbarum; Spinal cord injury; Macrophage; Rat