Pharmacological approaches to repair the injured spinal cord

J Neurotrauma. Mar-Apr 2006;23(3-4):318-34. doi: 10.1089/neu.2006.23.318.


Acute traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) results in a devastating loss of neurological function below the level of injury and adversely affects multiple systems within the body. The pathobiology of SCI involves a primary mechanical insult to the spinal cord and activation of a delayed secondary cascade of events, which ultimately causes progressive degeneration of the spinal cord. Whereas cell death from the mechanical injury is predominated by necrosis, secondary injury events trigger a continuum of necrotic and apoptotic cell death mechanisms. These secondary events include vascular abnormalities, ischemia-reperfusion, glutamate excitotoxicity and disturbances in ionic homeostasis, oxidative cell injury, and a robust inflammatory response. No gold standard therapy for SCI has been established, although clinical trials with methylprednisolone (NASCIS II and III) and GM-1 ganglioside (Maryland and Sygen) have demonstrated modest, albeit potentially important therapeutic benefits. In light of the overwhelming impact of SCI on the individual, other therapeutic interventions are urgently needed. A number of promising pharmacological therapies are currently under investigation for neuroprotective abilities in animal models of SCI. These include the sodium (Na+) channel blocker riluzole, the tetracycline derivative minocycline, the fusogen copolymer polyethylene glycol (PEG), and the tissue-protective hormone erythropoietin (EPO). Moreover, clinical trials investigating the putative neuroprotective and neuroregenerative properties ascribed to the Rho pathway antagonist, Cethrin (BioAxone Therapeutic, Inc.), and implantation of activated autologous macrophages (ProCord; Proneuron Biotechnologies) in patients with thoracic and cervical SCI are now underway. We anticipate that these studies will harken an era of renewed interest in translational clinical trials. Ultimately, due to the multi-factorial pathophysiology of traumatic SCI, effective therapies will require combined approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / enzymology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / physiology*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins