Traumatic injury to the spinal cord initiates a series of destructive cellular processes which accentuate tissue damage at and beyond the original site of trauma. The cellular inflammatory response has been implicated as one mechanism of secondary degeneration. Of the various leukocytes present in the spinal cord after injury, macrophages predominate. Through the release of chemicals and enzymes involved in host defense, macrophages can damage neurons and glia. However, macrophages are also essential for the reconstruction of injured tissues. This apparent dichotomy in macrophage function is further complicated by the overlapping influences of resident microglial-derived macrophages and those phagocytes that are derived from peripheral sources. To clarify the role macrophages play in posttraumatic secondary degeneration, we selectively depleted peripheral macrophages in spinal-injured rats during a time when inflammation has been shown to be maximal. Standardized behavioral and neuropathological analyses (open-field locomotor function, morphometric analysis of the injured spinal cord) were used to evaluate the efficacy of this treatment. Beginning 24 h after injury and then again at days 3 and 6 postinjury, spinal cord-injured rats received intravenous injections of liposome-encapsulated clodronate to deplete peripheral macrophages. Within the spinal cords of rats treated in this fashion, macrophage infiltration was significantly reduced at the site of impact. These animals showed marked improvement in hindlimb usage during overground locomotion. Behavioral recovery was paralleled by a significant preservation of myelinated axons, decreased cavitation in the rostrocaudal axis of the spinal cord, and enhanced sprouting and/or regeneration of axons at the site of injury. These data implicate hematogenous (blood-derived) macrophages as effectors of acute secondary injury. Furthermore, given the selective nature of the depletion regimen and its proven efficacy when administered after injury, cell-specific immunomodulation may prove useful as an adjunct therapy after spinal cord injury.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.