The extension of axons through the major inhibitory component of the glial scar, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs), remains a key obstacle for regeneration following spinal cord injury (SCI). We have previously shown that transplants composed of neuronal and glial restricted precursors (NRP and GRP respectively) promote regeneration and connectivity in the injured spinal cord (Bonner et al., 2010, 2011), however, little is known about the properties of these precursors at a cellular level. We now report that NRP-derived neurons, in contrast to dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, have the ability to extend axons and cross over from a permissive substratum (laminin) onto inhibitory CSPG in vitro. Growth cones of neurons derived from NRP, compared to DRG, exhibit significantly lower levels of the CSPG receptors protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma (PTPσ) and leukocyte common antigen-related phosphatase (LAR). GRP-conditioned medium prepared from the same cell densities did not affect the response of primary sensory neurons to CSPG confirming that the ability of NRP-derived neurons to cross onto CSPG is determined intrinsically. However, GRP-conditioned medium collected from high density cultures increased the probability of DRG axons to cross from LN onto CSPG and increased the length of DRG axons extending on CSPG. Collectively, these results suggest that (1) neurons derived from NRPs are intrinsically insensitive to CSPGs due to low levels of receptor expression, and (2) high levels of factors secreted by GRP can reduce the inhibitory effects of CSPG and promote axonal growth. These observations provide mechanistic insights into the specific roles of NRPs and GRPs in promoting regeneration and repair following SCI.
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