Neurotrophic factors expressed in both cortex and spinal cord induce axonal plasticity after spinal cord injury

J Neurosci Res. 2003 Oct 15;74(2):221-6. doi: 10.1002/jnr.10718.


We reported recently that overexpression of neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) by motoneurons in the spinal cord of rats will induce sprouting of corticospinal tract (CST) axons (Zhou et al. [2003] J. Neurosci. 23:1424-1431). We now report that overexpression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) or glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in the rat sensorimotor cortex near the CST neuronal cell bodies together with overexpression of NT-3 in the lumbar spinal cord significantly increases axonal sprouting compared to that induced by NT-3 alone. Two weeks after unilaterally lesioning the CST at the level of the pyramids, we injected rats with saline or adenoviral vectors (Adv) carrying genes coding for BDNF (Adv.BDNF), GDNF (Adv.GDNF) or enhanced green fluorescent protein (Adv.EGFP) at six sites in the sensorimotor cortex, while delivering Adv.NT3 to motoneurons in each of these four groups on the lesioned side of the spinal cord by retrograde transport from the sciatic nerve. Four days later, biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) was injected into the sensorimotor cortex on the unlesioned side to mark CST axons in the spinal cord. Morphometric analysis of axonal sprouting 3 weeks after BDA injection showed that the number of CST axons crossing the midline in rats treated with Adv.BDNF or Adv.GDNF were 46% and 52% greater, respectively, than in rats treated with Adv.EGFP or PBS (P < 0.05). These data demonstrate that sustained local expression of neurotrophic factors in the sensorimotor cortex and spinal cord will promote increased axonal sprouting after spinal cord injury, providing a basis for continued development of neurotrophic factor therapy for central nervous system damage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / therapeutic use
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Genetic Vectors / therapeutic use
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Growth Cones / metabolism
  • Growth Cones / ultrastructure
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Nerve Growth Factors / biosynthesis*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / genetics
  • Nerve Growth Factors / therapeutic use
  • Nerve Regeneration / genetics
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics*
  • Neurotrophin 3 / genetics
  • Neurotrophin 3 / therapeutic use
  • Pyramidal Tracts / growth & development*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / injuries
  • Pyramidal Tracts / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / growth & development
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / genetics
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Gdnf protein, rat
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins