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J Neurotrauma. 2008 Dec;25(12):1483-97. doi: 10.1089/neu.2008.0658.

Pathology dynamics predict spinal cord injury therapeutic success.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Secondary injury, the complex cascade of cellular events following spinal cord injury (SCI), is a major source of post-insult neuron death. Experimental work has focused on the details of individual factors or mechanisms that contribute to secondary injury, but little is known about the interactions among factors leading to the overall pathology dynamics that underlie its propagation. Prior hypotheses suggest that the pathology is dominated by interactions, with therapeutic success lying in combinations of neuroprotective treatments. In this study, we provide the first comprehensive, system-level characterization of the entire secondary injury process using a novel relational model methodology that aggregates the findings of approximately 250 experimental studies. Our quantitative examination of the overall pathology dynamics suggests that, while the pathology is initially dominated by "fire-like", rate-dependent interactions, it quickly switches to a "flood-like", accumulation-dependent process with contributing factors being largely independent. Our evaluation of approximately 20,000 potential single and combinatorial treatments indicates this flood-like pathology results in few highly influential factors at clinically realistic treatment time frames, with multi-factor treatments being merely additive rather than synergistic in reducing neuron death. Our findings give new fundamental insight into the understanding of the secondary injury pathology as a whole, provide direction for alternative therapeutic strategies, and suggest that ultimate success in treating SCI lies in the pursuit of pathology dynamics in addition to individually involved factors.

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