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Lauren Conova Grous, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Jed S. Shumsky, Itzhak Fischer and Anthony Lowman

Object

In a follow-up study to their prior work, the authors evaluated a novel delivery system for a previously established treatment for spinal cord injury (SCI), based on a poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm), lightly cross-linked with a polyethylene glycol (PEG) injectable scaffold. The primary aim of this work was to assess the recovery of both spontaneous and skilled forelimb function following a cervical dorsolateral funiculotomy in the rat. This injury ablates the rubrospinal tract (RST) but spares the dorsal and ventral corticospinal tract and can severely impair reaching and grasping abilities.

Methods

Animals received an implant of either PNIPAAm-g-PEG or PNIPAAm-g-PEG + brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The single-pellet reach-to-grasp task and the staircase-reaching task were used to assess skilled motor function associated with reaching and grasping abilities, and the cylinder task was used to assess spontaneous motor function, both before and after injury.

Results

Because BDNF can stimulate regenerating RST axons, the authors showed that animals receiving an implant of PNIPAAm-g-PEG with codissolved BDNF had an increased recovery rate of fine motor function when compared with a control group (PNIPAAm-g-PEG only) on both a staircase-reaching task at 4 and 8 weeks post-SCI and on a single-pellet reach-to-grasp task at 5 weeks post-SCI. In addition, spontaneous motor function, as measured in the cylinder test, recovered to preinjury values in animals receiving PNIPAAm-g-PEG + BDNF. Fluorescence immunochemistry indicated the presence of both regenerating axons and BDA-labeled fibers growing up to or within the host-graft interface in animals receiving PNIPAAm-g-PEG + BDNF.

Conclusions

Based on their results, the authors suggest that BDNF delivered by the scaffold promoted the growth of RST axons into the lesion, which may have contributed in part to the increased recovery rate.

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Lauren Conova, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Birgit Neuhuber, Itzhak Fischer, Anthony Lowman, Jennifer Vernengo, Ying Jin, B. Timothy Himes, Birgit Neuhuber, Itzhak Fischer and Anthony Lowman

Object

The authors investigated the feasibility of using injectable hydrogels, based on poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm), lightly cross-linked with polyethylene glycol (PEG) or methylcellulose (MC), to serve as injectable scaffolds for local delivery of neurotrophins and cellular transplants into the injured spinal cord. The primary aims of this work were to assess the biocompatibility of the scaffolds by evaluating graft cell survival and the host tissue immune response. The scaffolds were also evaluated for their ability to promote axonal growth through the action of released brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Methods

The in vivo performance of PNIPAAm-g-PEG and PNIPAAm-g-MC was evaluated using a rodent model of spinal cord injury (SCI). The hydrogels were injected as viscous liquids into the injury site and formed space-filling hydrogels. The host immune response and biocompatibility of the scaffolds were evaluated at 2 weeks by histological and fluorescent immunohistochemical analysis. Commercially available matrices were used as a control and examined for comparison.

Results

Experiments showed that the scaffolds did not contribute to an injury-related inflammatory response. PNIPAAm-g-PEG was also shown to be an effective vehicle for delivery of cellular transplants and supported graft survival. Additionally, PNIPAAm-g-PEG and PNIPAAm-g-MC are permissive to axonal growth and can serve as injectable scaffolds for local delivery of BDNF.

Conclusions

Based on the results, the authors suggest that these copolymers are feasible injectable scaffolds for cell grafting into the injured spinal cord and for delivery of therapeutic factors.