Acute central nervous system (CNS) injuries such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, autoimmune encephalomyelitis, and ischemic stroke are associated with significant morbidity, mortality, and health care costs worldwide. Preliminary research has shown potential neuroprotection associated with adult tissue derived stem/progenitor cell based therapies. While initial research indicated that engraftment and transdifferentiation into neural cells could explain the observed benefit, the exact mechanism remains controversial. A second hypothesis details localized stem/progenitor cell engraftment with alteration of the loco-regional milieu; however, the limited rate of cell engraftment makes this theory less likely. There is a growing amount of preclinical data supporting the idea that, after intravenous injection, stem/progenitor cells interact with immunologic cells located in organ systems distant to the CNS, thereby altering the systemic immunologic/inflammatory response. Such distant cell "bioreactors" could modulate the observed post-injury pro-inflammatory environment and lead to neuroprotection. In this review, we discuss the current literature detailing the above mechanisms of action for adult stem/progenitor cell based therapies in the CNS.
Keywords: Bone marrow; Cerebral stroke; Inflammation; Spinal cord injury; Stem cells; Traumatic brain injury.