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Neurosurgery. 2000 Nov;47(5):1057-69.

Olfactory ensheathing cells: bridging the gap in spinal cord injury.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8082, USA.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) continues to be an insidious and challenging problem for scientists and clinicians. Recent neuroscientific advances have changed the pessimistic notion that axons are not capable of significant extension after transection. The challenges of recovering from SCI have been broadly divided into four areas: 1) cell survival; 2) axon regeneration (growth); 3) correct targeting by growing axons; and 4) establishment of correct and functional synaptic appositions. After acute SCI, there seems to be a therapeutic window of opportunity within which the devastating consequences of the secondary injury can be ameliorated. This is supported by several observations in which apoptotic glial cells have been identified up to 1 week after acute SCI. Moreover, autopsy studies have identified anatomically preserved but unmyelinated axons that could potentially subserve normal physiological properties. These observations suggest that therapeutic strategies after SCI can be directed into two broad modalities: 1) prevention or amelioration of the secondary injury, and 2) restorative or regenerative interventions. Intraspinal transplants have been used after SCI as a means for restoring the severed neuraxis. Fetal cell transplants and, more recently, progenitor cells have been used to restore intraspinal circuitry or to serve as relay for damaged axons. In an attempt to remyelinate anatomically preserved but physiologically disrupted axons, newer therapeutic interventions have incorporated the transplantation of myelinating cells, such as Schwann cells, oligodendrocytes, and olfactory ensheathing cells. Of these cells, the olfactory ensheathing cells have become a more favorable candidate for extensive remyelination and axonal regeneration. Olfactory ensheathing cells are found along the full length of the olfactory nerve, from the basal lamina of the epithelium to the olfactory bulb, crossing the peripheral nervous system-central nervous system junction. In vitro, these cells promote robust axonal growth, in part through cell adhesion molecules and possibly by secretion of neurotrophic growth factors that support axonal elongation and extension. In animal models of SCI, transplantation of ensheathing cells supports axonal remyelination and extensive migration throughout the length of the spinal cord. Although the specific properties of these cells that govern enhanced axon regeneration remain to be elucidated, it seems certain that they will contribute to the establishment of new horizons in SCI research.

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