Ex vivo MR determined apparent diffusion coefficients correlate with motor recovery mediated by intraspinal transplants of fibroblasts genetically modified to express BDNF

Exp Neurol. 2003 Jul;182(1):49-63. doi: 10.1016/s0014-4886(03)00036-0.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether apparent diffusion coefficients (ADCs) in ex vivo spinal cord white matter, calculated from diffusion weighted MR (DWI) images, correlate with axonal growth and behavioral recovery following subtotal hemisection and transplantation of fibroblasts genetically modified to express brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These genetically modified fibroblasts have been shown to promote axonal growth, diminish retrograde degenerative changes in axotomized Red nucleus neurons, and are associated with behavioral recovery. Since changes in ADC appear to reflect damage to axons and myelin sheaths, which conventional MR techniques do not identify, partial repair mediated by BDNF-secreting fibroblasts should be detected with ADC measures. Accordingly, we transplanted unmodified fibroblasts (Fb-UM) or fibroblasts modified to secrete BDNF (Fb-BDNF) into cervical subtotal hemisection cavities in adult rats. Rats with Fb-BDNF transplants showed significantly greater behavioral recovery over 12 weeks, as measured by tests of forelimb exploration and open field locomotor activity. Lesion sizes and transplant survival did not differ between the two groups, but immunocytochemical examination showed substantial growth of axons into the Fb-BDNF grafts and little growth into the Fb-UM grafts. Fixed spinal cords were imaged in a 9.4-T magnet. ADCs perpendicular (tADC) and parallel (lADC) to the long axis of the cord were measured in the dorsal lateral white matter, rostral and caudal to the transplant. tADC values and anisotropy index (AI = tADC/lADC) were elevated in both transplant types, indicating white matter damage, but were closer to normal in rats with Fb-BDNF, consistent with known neuroprotection and axonal growth elicited by BDNF. Closer to normal tADC and AI values correlated with improved behavioral recovery. These findings suggest that high-resolution imaging with measurement of tADC and lADC can provide a measure of functionally significant repair that may otherwise go undetected with conventional MR techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Axons / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / biosynthesis*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Cell Division
  • Diffusion
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / transplantation*
  • Graft Survival
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Motor Activity
  • Neck
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor