Immune activation is required for NT-3-induced axonal plasticity in chronic spinal cord injury

Exp Neurol. 2008 Feb;209(2):497-509. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2007.11.025. Epub 2007 Dec 7.


After an unilateral lesion of the corticospinal tract (CST) at the level of the medulla over-expression of Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) in lumbar spinal cord motoneurons induced axonal sprouting of the intact CST in the acutely injured but not uninjured or chronically injured spinal cord in rats. This suggested that processes associated with immune-mediated wound healing may act with NT-3 to induce neuroplasticity. To test whether immune processes were involved we measured NT-3-induced axonal sprouting in immunosuppressed compared to immunocompetent rats. Rats were immunosuppressed with anti-leukocyte antibodies 1 day before receiving a CST lesion and then 2 weeks later NT-3 was over-expressed in the lumbar spinal motoneurons with an adenoviral vector carrying the NT-3 gene targeted to the motoneurons by retrograde transport. At 35 days post-lesion no axonal sprouting was measured in immunosuppressed rats whereas axonal sprouting was measured in the immunocompetent rats. We then tested whether re-evoking an immune response in chronically lesioned rats would induce neuroplasticity. Rats received CST lesions and then 4 months later were treated with systemic injections of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) 7 days before NT-3 was over-expressed in the lumbar spinal motoneurons. Axonal sprouting was observed in the LPS treated rats but not in control animals that were not treated with LPS. Further studies showed that lesioning the CST activated and LPS reactivated microglia and CD4(+) T-cells in the acutely lesioned and chronically lesioned rats, respectively. However, immunosuppression only decreased the number of activated CD4(+) T-cells suggesting they were responsible for the support of axonal growth. These observations demonstrate that processes associated with immune-mediated wound healing play a role in NT-3-induced neuroplasticity after injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Biotin / analogs & derivatives
  • Biotin / metabolism
  • Chronic Disease
  • Dextrans / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Genetic Vectors / physiology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurotrophin 3 / genetics
  • Neurotrophin 3 / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / immunology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Time Factors


  • Antigens, CD
  • Dextrans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Neurotrophin 3
  • biotinylated dextran amine
  • Biotin