This study was designed to investigate how transplantation into injured brain of human bone marrow stromal cells (hMSCs) impregnated in collagen scaffolds affects axonal sprouting in the spinal cord after traumatic brain injury (TBI) in rats. Also investigated was the relationship of axonal sprouting to sensorimotor functional recovery after treatment.
Adult male Wistar rats (n = 24) underwent a controlled cortical impact injury and were divided into three equal groups (8 rats/group). The two treatment groups received either hMSCs (3 × 106) alone or hMSC (3 × 106)–impregnated collagen scaffolds transplanted into the lesion cavity. In the control group, saline was injected into the lesion cavity. All treatments were performed 7 days after TBI. On Day 21 after TBI, a 10% solution of biotinylated dextran amine (10,000 MW) was stereotactically injected into the contralateral motor cortex to label the corticospinal tract (CST) originating from this area. Sensorimotor function was tested using the modified neurological severity score (mNSS) and foot-fault tests performed on Days 1, 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35 after TBI. Spatial learning was tested with Morris water maze test on Days 31–35 after TBI. All rats were sacrificed on Day 35 after TBI, and brain and spinal cord (cervical and lumbar) sections were stained immunohistochemically for histological analysis.
Few biotinylated dextran amine–labeled CST fibers crossing over the midline were found in the contralateral spinal cord transverse sections at both cervical and lumbar levels in saline-treated (control) rats. However, hMSC-alone treatment significantly increased axonal sprouting from the intact CST into the denervated side of the gray matter of both cervical and lumbar levels of the spinal cord (p < 0.05). Also, this axonal sprouting was significantly more in the scaffold+hMSC group compared with the hMSC-alone group (p < 0.05). Sensorimotor functional analysis showed significant improvement of mNSS (p < 0.05) and foot-fault tests (p < 0.05) in hMSC-alone and scaffold+hMSC-treated rats compared with controls (p < 0.05). Functional improvement, however, was significantly greater in the scaffold+hMSC group compared with the hMSC-alone group (p < 0.05). Morris water maze testing also showed significant improvement in spatial learning in scaffold+hMSC and hMSC-alone groups compared with the control group (p < 0.05), with rats in the scaffold+hMSC group performing significantly better than those in the hMSC-alone group (p < 0.05). Pearson correlation data showed significant correlation between the number of crossing CST fibers detected and sensorimotor recovery (p < 0.05).
Axonal plasticity plays an important role in neurorestoration after TBI. Transplanting hMSCs with scaffolds enhances the effect of hMSCs on axonal sprouting of CST fibers from the contralateral intact cortex into the denervated side of spinal cord after TBI. This enhanced axonal regeneration may at least partially contribute to the therapeutic benefits of treating TBI with hMSCs.