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J Neurosci. 2013 Sep 25;33(39):15350-61. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2510-13.2013.

Short hairpin RNA against PTEN enhances regenerative growth of corticospinal tract axons after spinal cord injury.

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F. M. Kirby Program in Neuroscience, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, and Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland.


Developing approaches to promote the regeneration of descending supraspinal axons represents an ideal strategy for rebuilding neuronal circuits to improve functional recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI). Our previous studies demonstrated that genetic deletion of phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) in mouse corticospinal neurons reactivates their regenerative capacity, resulting in significant regeneration of corticospinal tract (CST) axons after SCI. However, it is unknown whether nongenetic methods of suppressing PTEN have similar effects and how regenerating axons interact with the extrinsic environment. Herein, we show that suppressing PTEN expression with short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) promotes the regeneration of injured CST axons, and these axons form anatomical synapses in appropriate areas of the cord caudal to the lesion. Importantly, this model of increased CST regrowth enables the analysis of extrinsic regulators of CST regeneration in vivo. We find that regenerating axons avoid dense clusters of fibroblasts and macrophages in the lesion, suggesting that these cell types might be key inhibitors of axon regeneration. Furthermore, most regenerating axons cross the lesion in association with astrocytes, indicating that these cells might be important for providing a permissive bridge for axon regeneration. Lineage analysis reveals that these bridge-forming astrocytes are not derived from ependymal stem cells within the spinal cord, suggesting that they are more likely derived from a subset of mature astrocytes. Overall, this study reveals insights into the critical extrinsic and intrinsic regulators of axon regeneration and establishes shRNA as a viable means to manipulate these regulators and translate findings into other mammalian models.

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