Acute post-injury blockade of α2δ-1 calcium channel subunits prevents pathological autonomic plasticity after spinal cord injury
Faith H Brennan, Benjamin T Noble, Yan Wang, Zhen Guan, Hayes Davis, Xiaokui Mo, Clay Harris, Cagla Eroglu, Adam R Ferguson, Phillip G Popovich
After spinal cord injury (SCI), normally innocuous visceral or somatic stimuli can trigger uncontrolled reflex activation of sympathetic circuitry, causing pathological dysautonomia. We show that remarkable structural remodeling and plasticity occur within spinal autonomic circuitry, creating abnormal sympathetic reflexes that promote dysautonomia. However, when mice are treated early after SCI with human-equivalent doses of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug gabapentin (GBP), it is possible to block multi-segmental excitatory synaptogenesis and abolish sprouting of autonomic neurons that innervate immune organs and sensory afferents that trigger pain and autonomic dysreflexia (AD). This "prophylactic GBP" regimen decreases the frequency and severity of AD and protects against SCI-induced immune suppression. These benefits persist even 1 month after stopping treatment. GBP could be repurposed to prevent dysautonomia in at-risk individuals with high-level SCI.