Glial Cells Shape Pathology and Repair After Spinal Cord Injury
Gaudet AD, Fonken LK
Glial cell types were classified less than 100 years ago by del Rio-Hortega. For instance, he correctly surmised that microglia in pathologic central nervous system (CNS) were "voracious monsters" that helped clean the tissue. Although these historical predictions were remarkably accurate, innovative technologies have revealed novel molecular, cellular, and dynamic physiologic aspects of CNS glia. In this review, we integrate recent findings regarding the roles of glia and glial interactions in healthy and injured spinal cord. The three major glial cell types are considered in healthy CNS and after spinal cord injury (SCI). Astrocytes, which in the healthy CNS regulate neurotransmitter and neurovascular dynamics, respond to SCI by becoming reactive and forming a glial scar that limits pathology and plasticity. Microglia, which in the healthy CNS scan for infection/damage, respond to SCI by promoting axon growth and remyelination-but also with hyperactivation and cytotoxic effects. Oligodendrocytes and their precursors, which in healthy tissue speed axon conduction and support axonal function, respond to SCI by differentiating and producing myelin, but are susceptible to death. Thus, post-SCI responses of each glial cell can simultaneously stimulate and stifle repair. Interestingly, potential therapies could also target interactions between these cells. Astrocyte-microglia cross-talk creates a feed-forward loop, so shifting the response of either cell could amplify repair. Astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes/precursors also influence post-SCI cell survival, differentiation, and remyelination, as well as axon sparing. Therefore, optimizing post-SCI responses of glial cells-and interactions between these CNS cells-could benefit neuroprotection, axon plasticity, and functional recovery.