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J Neurosci. 2003 Oct 15;23(28):9276-88.

Axonal regeneration through regions of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan deposition after spinal cord injury: a balance of permissiveness and inhibition.

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Department of Neurosciences, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


Increased expression of certain extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules after CNS injury is believed to restrict axonal regeneration. The chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) are one such class of ECM molecules that inhibit neurite outgrowth in vitro and are upregulated after CNS injury. We examined growth responses of several classes of axons to this inhibitory environment in the presence of a cellular fibroblast bridge in a spinal cord lesion site and after a growth factor stimulus at the lesion site (fibroblasts genetically modified to secrete NGF). Immunohistochemical analysis showed dense labeling of the CSPGs NG2, brevican, neurocan, versican, and phosphacan at the host-lesion interface after spinal cord injury (SCI). Furthermore, robust expression of NG2, and to a lesser extent versican, was also observed throughout grafts of control and NGF-secreting fibroblasts. Despite this inhibitory milieu, several axonal classes penetrated control fibroblast grafts, including dorsal column sensory, rubrospinal, and nociceptive axons. Axon growth was amplified more in the presence of NGF-secreting grafts. Confocal microscopy demonstrated that axon growth was, paradoxically, preferentially associated with NG2-rich substrates in both graft types. NG2 expression also increased after sciatic nerve injury, wherein axons successfully regenerate. Cellular sources of NG2 in SCI and peripheral nerve lesion sites included Schwann cells and endothelial cells. Notably, these same cellular sources in lesion sites produced the cell adhesion molecules L1 and laminin, and these molecules all colocalized. Thus, axons grow along substrates coexpressing both inhibitory and permissive molecules, suggesting that regeneration is successful when local permissive signals balance and exceed inhibitory signals.

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