Traumatic injury of the spinal cord and nitric oxide

Prog Brain Res. 2007;161:171-83. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(06)61011-X.


In the current report, we summarize our findings related to the involvement of nitric oxide (NO) in the pathology of spinal cord trauma. We initially studied the distribution of nitric oxide synthase (NOS)-immunolabeled and/or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase (NADPHd; which is highly colocalized with NOS)-stained somata and fibers in the spinal cord of the rabbit. Segmental and laminar distribution of NADPHd-stained neurons in the rabbit revealed a large number of NADPHd-stained neurons in the spinal cord falling into six categories, N1-N6, while others could not be classified. Large numbers of NADPHd-stained neurons were identified in the superficial dorsal horn and around the central canal. Four morphologically distinct kinds of NADPHd-stained axons 2.5-3.5 microm in diameter were identified throughout the white matter in the spinal cord. Moreover, a massive occurrence of axonal NADPHd-staining was detected in the juxtagriseal layer of the ventral funiculus along the rostrocaudal axis. The prominent NADPHd-stained fiber bundles were identified in the mediobasal and central portion of the ventral funiculus. The sulcomarginal fasciculus was found in the basal and medial portion of the ventral funiculus in all cervical and thoracic segments. Since the discovery that NO may act as a neuronal transmitter, an increasing interest has focused on its ability to modulate synaptic function. NO passes through cell membranes without specific release or uptake mechanisms inducing changes in signal-related functions by several means. In particular, the activation of the soluble guanylyl cyclases (sGC), the formation of cyclic guanosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cGMP) and the action of cGMP-dependent protein kinases has been identified as the main signal transduction pathways of NO in the nervous system including spinal cord. It is known that the intracellular level of cGMP is strictly controlled by its rate of synthesis via guanylyl cyclases (GC) and/or by the rate of its degradation via 3',5'-cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDE). GC can be divided into two main groups, i.e., the membrane-bound or particular guanylyl cyclase (pGC) and the cytosolic or sGC. In the spinal cord, the activation of pGC has only been demonstrated for natriuretic peptides, which stimulate cGMP accumulation in GABA-ergic structures in laminae I-III of the rat cervical spinal cord. These neurons are involved in controlling the action of the locomotor circuit. In view of the abundance of NO-responsive structures in the brain, it is proposed that NO-cGMP signaling will be part of neuronal information processing at many levels. In relation to this, we found that surgically induced Th7 constriction of 24 h duration stimulated both the constitutive NOS activity and cGMP level by 120 and 131%, respectively, in non-compartmentalized white matter of Th8-Th9 segments, located just caudally to the site of injury. NO-mediated cGMP formation was only slightly increased in the dorsal funiculus of Th5-Th9 segments. There are some other sources that may influence the NO-mediated cGMP formation in spinal cord. A high level of glutamate produced at the site of the lesion and an excessive accumulation of intracellular Ca2+ may stimulate NOS activity and create suitable conditions for NO synthesis and its adverse effect on white matter. An increased interest has focused on the role of NO at the site of injury and in areas located close to the epicenter of the impact site and, in these connections an upregulation of NOS was noted in neurons and interneurons. However, the upregulation of NOS expression was also seen in interneurons located just rostrally and caudally to the lesion. A quantitative analysis of laminar distribution of multiple cauda equina constriction (MCEC) induced NADPHd-stained neurons revealed a considerable increase in these neurons in laminae VIII-IX 8h postconstriction, and a highly statistically significant increase of such neurons in laminae VII-X 5 days postconstriction in the lumbosacral segments. Concurrently, the number of NADPHd-stained neurons on laminae I-II in LS segments was greatly reduced. It is concluded that a greater understanding of NO changes after spinal cord trauma is essential for the possibility of targeting this pathway therapeutically.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyclic GMP / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / drug therapy
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • NADPH Dehydrogenase
  • Cyclic GMP