Recovery from spinal cord injury using naturally occurring antiinflammatory compound curcumin

Laboratory investigation

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Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a debilitating disease. Primary SCI results from direct injury to the spinal cord, whereas secondary injury is a side effect from subsequent edema and ischemia followed by activation of proinflammatory cytokines. These cytokines activate the prosurvival molecule nuclear factor–κB and generate obstacles in spinal cord reinnervation due to gliosis. Curcumin longa is an active compound found in turmeric, which acts as an antiinflammatory agent primarily by inhibiting nuclear factor–κB. Here, the authors study the effect of curcumin on SCI recovery.


Fourteen female Sprague-Dawley rats underwent T9–10 laminectomy and spinal cord contusion using a weight-drop apparatus. Within 30 minutes after contusion and weekly thereafter, curcumin (60 mg/kg/ml body weight in dimethyl sulfoxide) or dimethyl sulfoxide (1 ml/kg body weight) was administered via percutaneous epidural injection at the injury site. Spinal cord injury recovery was assessed weekly by scoring hindlimb motor function. Animals were killed 6 weeks postcontusion for histopathological analysis of spinal cords and soleus muscle weight evaluation.


Curcumin-treated rats had improved motor function compared with controls starting from Week 1. Body weight gain significantly improved, correlating with improved Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan scores. Soleus muscle weight was greater in curcumin-treated rats than controls. Histopathological analysis validated these results with increased neural element mass with less gliosis at the contusion site in curcumin-treated rats than controls.


Epidural administration of curcumin resulted in improved recovery from SCI. This occurred with no adverse effects noted in experimental animals. Therefore, curcumin treatment may translate into a novel therapy for humans with SCI.

Abbreviations used in this paper:BBB = Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan; DMSO = dimethyl sulfoxide; MDA = 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine; NF-κB = nuclear factor–κB; SCI = spinal cord injury; SOD = superoxide dismutase.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Meena Jhanwar-Uniyal, Ph.D., Departments of Neurosurgery and Pathology, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online February 10, 2012; DOI: 10.3171/2012.1.SPINE11769.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Functional analysis after curcumin treatment after SCI. A: Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan scores. Curcumin-treated animals (solid line) recovered more rapidly and better than DMSO-treated animals (dashed line). B: Body weight over time. Curcumin-treated rats (solid line) showed improved body weight gain over vehicle (DMSO)-treated rats (dashed line). C: Soleus muscle weight. Rats with greater recovery of hindlimb motor function have better soleus muscle weight at necropsy. Curcumin-treated animals (shaded bar) had a heavier soleus muscle weight than DMSO controls (open bar). Values presented are mean ± SEM. *p < 0.05.

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    Histopathological analysis. A: Curcumin-treated animals (solid line) showed greater sparing of neurological tissue than DMSO controls (dashed line). A value of 0 represents the area of peak contusion/spinal cord atrophy. B and C: Curcumintreated animals (shaded bar) have more spared spinal cord tissue than control animals (open bar). This includes total area (B) as well as gray and white matter (C). D and E: Photomicrographs showing an increased sparing of tissue and decreased gliosis after curcumin treatment (E) versus DMSO treatment (D). Values are mean ± SEM, where control = 100. *p < 0.05; $p < 0.1 (trend toward significance). H & E, original magnification × 10.



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