Axonal regeneration may be hindered following spinal cord injury (SCI) by a limited immune response and insufficient macrophage recruitment. This limitation has been partially surmounted in small-mammal models of SCI by implanting activated autologous macrophages (AAMs). The authors sought to replicate these results in a canine model of partial SCI.
Six dogs underwent left T-13 spinal cord hemisection. The AAMs were implanted at both ends of the lesion in 4 dogs, and 2 other dogs received sham implantations of cell media. Cortical motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were used to assess electrophysiological recovery. Functional motor recovery was assessed with a modified Tarlov Scale. After 9 months, animals were injected with wheat germ agglutinin–horseradish peroxidase at L-2 and killed for histological assessment.
Three of the 4 dogs that received AAM implants and 1 of the 2 negative control dogs showed clear recovery of MEP response. Behavioral assessment showed no difference in motor function between the AAM-treated and control groups. Histological investigation with an axonal retrograde tracer showed neither local fiber crossing nor significant uptake in the contralateral red nucleus in both implanted and negative control groups.
In a large-animal model of partial SCI treated with implanted AAMs, the authors saw no morphological or histological evidence of axonal regeneration. Although they observed partial electrophysiological and functional motor recovery in all dogs, this recovery was not enhanced in animals treated with implanted AAMs. Furthermore, there was no morphological or histological evidence of axonal regeneration in animals with implants that accounted for the observed recovery. The explanation for this finding is probably multifactorial, but the authors believe that the AAM implantation does not produce axonal regeneration, and therefore is a technology that requires further investigation before it can be clinically relied on to ameliorate SCI.