Background: The chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan NG2 blocks neurite outgrowth in vitro and has been proposed as a major inhibitor of axonal regeneration in the CNS. Although a substantial body of evidence underpins this hypothesis, it is challenged by recent findings including strong expression of NG2 in regenerating peripheral nerve.
Results: We studied axonal regeneration in the PNS and CNS of genetically engineered mice that do not express NG2, and in sex and age matched wild-type controls. In the CNS, we used anterograde tracing with BDA to study corticospinal tract (CST) axons after spinal cord injury and transganglionic labelling with CT-HRP to trace ascending sensory dorsal column (DC) axons after DC lesions and a conditioning lesion of the sciatic nerve. Injury to these fibre tracts resulted in no difference between knockout and wild-type mice in the ability of CST axons or DC axons to enter or cross the lesion site. Similarly, after dorsal root injury (with conditioning lesion), most regenerating dorsal root axons failed to grow across the dorsal root entry zone in both transgenic and wild-type mice. Following sciatic nerve injuries, functional recovery was assessed by analysis of the toe-spreading reflex and cutaneous sensitivity to Von Frey hairs. Anatomical correlates of regeneration were assessed by: retrograde labelling of regenerating dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells with DiAsp; immunostaining with PGP 9.5 to visualise sensory reinnervation of plantar hindpaws; electron microscopic analysis of regenerating axons in tibial and digital nerves; and by silver-cholinesterase histochemical study of motor end plate reinnervation. We also examined functional and anatomical correlates of regeneration after injury of the facial nerve by assessing the time taken for whisker movements and corneal reflexes to recover and by retrograde labelling of regenerated axons with Fluorogold and DiAsp. None of the anatomical or functional analyses revealed significant differences between wild-type and knockout mice.
Conclusion: These findings show that NG2 is unlikely to be a major inhibitor of axonal regeneration after injury to the CNS, and, further, that NG2 is unlikely to be necessary for regeneration or functional recovery following peripheral nerve injury.