The most actively explored therapeutic strategy for overcoming spinal cord injury (SCI) is the delivery of genes encoding molecules that stimulate regeneration. In a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and in preliminary clinical trials in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the combined administration of recombinant adenoviral vectors (Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG) encoding the neurotrophic/angiogenic factors vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and angiogenin (ANG) was found to slow the development of neurological deficits. These results suggest that there may be positive effects of this combination of genes in posttraumatic spinal cord regeneration. The objective of the present study was to determine the effects of Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG combination therapy on motor function recovery and reactivity of astrocytes in a rat model of SCI.
Spinal cord injury was induced in adult Wistar rats by the weight-drop method. Rats (n = 51) were divided into 2 groups: the experimental group (Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG) and the control group (Ad5-GFP [green fluorescent protein]). Recovery of motor function was assessed using the Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan scale. The duration and intensity of infectivity and gene expression from the injected vectors were assessed by immunofluorescent detection of GFP. Reactivity of glial cells was assessed by changes in the number of immunopositive cells expressing glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), S100β, aquaporin 4 (AQP4), oligodendrocyte transcription factor 2, and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan 4. The level of S100β mRNA expression in the spinal cord was estimated by real-time polymerase chain reaction.
Partial recovery of motor function was observed 30 days after surgery in both groups. However, Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan scores were 35.9% higher in the Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG group compared with the control group. Specific GFP signal was observed at distances of up to 5 mm in the rostral and caudal directions from the points of injection. A 1.5 to 2.0–fold increase in the number of GFAP+, S100β+, and AQP4+ cells was observed in the white and gray matter at a distance of up to 5 mm from the center of the lesion site in the caudal and rostral directions. At 30 days after injury, a 2-fold increase in S100β transcripts was observed in the Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG group compared with the control group.
Intraspinal injection of recombinant adenoviral vectors encoding VEGF and ANG stimulates functional recovery after traumatic SCI. The increased number of S100β+ astrocytes induced by this approach may be a beneficial factor for maintaining the survival and function of neurons. Therefore, gene therapy with Ad5-VEGF+Ad5-ANG vectors is an effective therapeutic method for SCI treatment.