Required growth facilitators propel axon regeneration across complete spinal cord injury
Anderson MA, O'Shea TM, Burda JE, Ao Y, Barlatey SL, Bernstein AM, Kim JH, James ND, Rogers A, Kato B, Wollenberg AL, Kawaguchi R, Coppola G, Wang C, Deming TJ, He Z, Courtine G, Sofroniew MV
Transected axons fail to regrow across anatomically complete spinal cord injuries (SCI) in adults. Diverse molecules can partially facilitate or attenuate axon growth during development or after injury, but efficient reversal of this regrowth failure remains elusive. Here we show that three factors that are essential for axon growth during development but are attenuated or lacking in adults-(i) neuron intrinsic growth capacity, (ii) growth-supportive substrate and (iii) chemoattraction -are all individually required and, in combination, are sufficient to stimulate robust axon regrowth across anatomically complete SCI lesions in adult rodents. We reactivated the growth capacity of mature descending propriospinal neurons with osteopontin, insulin-like growth factor 1 and ciliary-derived neurotrophic factor before SCI; induced growth-supportive substrates with fibroblast growth factor 2 and epidermal growth factor; and chemoattracted propriospinal axons with glial-derived neurotrophic factor delivered via spatially and temporally controlled release from biomaterial depots, placed sequentially after SCI. We show in both mice and rats that providing these three mechanisms in combination, but not individually, stimulated robust propriospinal axon regrowth through astrocyte scar borders and across lesion cores of non-neural tissue that was over 100-fold greater than controls. Stimulated, supported and chemoattracted propriospinal axons regrew a full spinal segment beyond lesion centres, passed well into spared neural tissue, formed terminal-like contacts exhibiting synaptic markers and conveyed a significant return of electrophysiological conduction capacity across lesions. Thus, overcoming the failure of axon regrowth across anatomically complete SCI lesions after maturity required the combined sequential reinstatement of several developmentally essential mechanisms that facilitate axon growth. These findings identify a mechanism-based biological repair strategy for complete SCI lesions that could be suitable to use with rehabilitation models designed to augment the functional recovery of remodelling circuits.