Experimental Neurology, Jun 2011

Differential effect of aging on axon sprouting and regenerative growth in spinal cord injury

Jaerve A, Schiwy N, Schmitz C, Mueller HW

The demographics of acute spinal cord injury (SCI) are changing with an increased incidence in older age. However, the influence of aging on the regenerative growth potential of central nervous system (CNS) axons following SCI is not known. We investigated axonal sprouting along with the efficiency of the infusion of the stromal cell-derived growth factor-1 (SDF-1/CXCL12) and regenerative growth along with the anti-scarring treatment (AST) in young (2-3months) and geriatric (22-28months) female rats following SCI.

AST included local injection of iron chelator (2,2'-dipyridine-5,5'-dicarboxylic acid) and 8-bromo-cyclic adenosine monophosphate solution into the lesion core. Axon outgrowth was investigated by immunohistological methods at 5weeks after a partial dorsal hemisection at thoracic level T8. We found that aging significantly reduces spontaneous axon sprouting of corticospinal (CST), serotonergic (5-HT) raphespinal and catecholaminergic (TH) coerulospinal tracts in distinct regions of the spinal cord rostral to the lesion.

However, impairment of axon sprouting could be markedly attenuated in geriatric animals by local infusion of SDF-1. Unexpectedly and in contrast to rostral sprouting, aging does not diminish the regenerative growth capacity of 5-HT-, TH- and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)-immunoreactive axons at 5weeks after SCI. Moreover, 5-HT and TH axons maintain the ability to react upon AST with significantly enhanced regeneration in aged animals.

These data are the first to demonstrate, that old age compromises axonal plasticity, but not regenerative growth, after SCI in a fiber tract-specific manner. Furthermore, AST and SDF-1 infusions remain efficient, which implicates that therapy in elderly patients is still feasible.

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