We have recently demonstrated that following a moderate contusion spinal cord injury (SCI) to rats, subsequent administration of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) significantly enhances functional recovery and tissue sparing. To further characterize the effects of bFGF, we evaluated its efficacy after a more severe contusion injury at T(10) using the NYU impactor. Immediately after SCI, osmotic minipumps were implanted into the lateral ventricle and lumbar thecal sac to deliver bFGF at 3 or 6 microg per day versus control vehicle for 1 week. Animals were behaviorally tested for 6 weeks before histological assessment of tissue sparing through the injured segment and glial reactivity distal to the lesion. Compared to moderate SCI, all rats had more prolonged and sustained functional deficits 6 weeks after severe contusion. Subjects treated with bFGF had pronounced recovery of hindlimb movements from 2 to 6 weeks compared to controls, manifested in significantly higher behavioral scores. Only marginal tissue sparing was seen rostral to the injury in bFGF-treated spinal cords versus controls. Optical density measurements of astrocyte and microglial cell immunoreactivity in bFGF-treated spinal cords showed that after 6 weeks they approximated controls, although astrocyte immunoreactivity remained higher in controls rostrally. In summary, intrathecal infusion of bFGF following severe SCI significantly restores gross hindlimb motor function that is not correlated with significant tissue sparing. In light of previous evidence that pharmacological intervention with bFGF after moderate SCI enhances tissue preservation, the current findings indicate that yet undefined mechanisms contribute to the enhanced functional recovery following bFGF treatment.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.