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Spine J. 2004 Jan-Feb;4(1):16-26.

Transplantation of oligodendrocyte precursors and sonic hedgehog results in improved function and white matter sparing in the spinal cords of adult rats after contusion.

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Departments of Neurological Surgery and Neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.



A substantial cause of neurological disability in spinal cord injury is oligodendrocyte death leading to demyelination and axonal degeneration. Rescuing oligodendrocytes and preserving myelin is expected to result in significant improvement in functional outcome after spinal cord injury. Although previous investigators have used cellular transplantation of xenografted pluripotent embryonic stem cells and observed improved functional outcome, these transplants have required steroid administration and only a minority of these cells develop into oligodendrocytes.


The objective of the present study was to determine whether allografts of oligodendrocyte precursors transplanted into an area of incomplete spinal cord contusion would improve behavioral and electrophysiological measures of spinal cord function. Additional treatment incorporated the use of the glycoprotein molecule Sonic hedgehog (Shh), which has been shown to play a critical role in oligodendroglial development and induce proliferation of endogenous neural precursors after spinal cord injury.


Laboratory study.


Moderate spinal cord contusion injury was produced in 39 adult rats at T9-T10. Ten animals died during the course of the study. Nine rats served as contusion controls (Group 1). Six rats were treated with oligodendrocyte precursor transplantation 5 days after injury (Group 2). The transplanted cells were isolated from newborn rat pups using immunopanning techniques. Another eight rats received an injection of recombinant Shh along with the oligodendrocyte precursors (Group 3), while six more rats were treated with Shh alone (Group 4). Eight additional rats received only T9 laminectomies to serve as noninjured controls (Group 0). Animals were followed for 28 days.


After an initial complete hindlimb paralysis, rats of all groups receiving a contusive injury recovered substantial function within 1 week. By 28 days, rats in Groups 2 and 3 scored 4.7 and 5.8 points better on the Basso, Beattie, Bresnahan (BBB) open field locomotor score than rats in group 1 (Groups 2 and 3=18.2 and 19.4 points, respectively, after 28 days vs. Group 1=13.6 points; p=.015). Rats in Group 4 scored no better than those in Group 1 (BBB=16.4). Motor evoked potential (MEP) recordings revealed a strong trend towards significant improvement in latency measurements in all treatment groups compared with controls at 28 days, although three animals in Group 1 and two animals in Group 3 were not recordable. Histological examination demonstrated significantly more spared white matter in the same groups that correlated with the improvements in BBB scores and MEP latencies. Immunohistochemical analysis showed the survival, proliferation and migration of the transplanted cells, as well as the induction of proliferating endogenous neural precursor cells in animals treated with Shh.


These findings suggest that the transplantation of oligodendrocyte precursors may improve axonal conduction and spinal cord function in the injured spinal cord. The benefits seem more pronounced with the addition of Shh, and the addition of Shh alone results in the proliferation of an endogenous population of neural precursor cells.

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