Axon regeneration after spinal cord injury in mammals is inadequate to restore function, illustrating the need to design better strategies for improving outcomes. Increasing the levels of the second messenger cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) after spinal cord injury enhances axon regeneration across a wide variety of species, making it an excellent candidate molecule that has therapeutic potential. However, several important aspects of the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which cAMP enhances axon regeneration are still unclear, such as how cAMP affects axon growth patterns, the molecular components within growing axon tips, the lesion scar, and neuronal survival. To address these points, we took advantage of the large, identified reticulospinal (RS) neurons in lamprey, a vertebrate that exhibits robust axon regeneration after a complete spinal cord transection. Application of a cAMP analog, db-cAMP, at the time of spinal cord transection increased the number of axons that regenerated across the lesion site. Db-cAMP also promoted axons to regenerate in straighter paths, prevented abnormal axonal growth patterns, increased the levels of synaptotagmin within axon tips, and increased the number of axotomized neurons that survived after spinal cord injury, thereby increasing the pool of neurons available for regeneration. There was also a transient increase in the number of microglia/macrophages and improved repair of the lesion site. Taken together, these data reveal several new features of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying cAMP-mediated enhancement of axon regeneration, further emphasizing the positive roles for this conserved pathway.
Keywords: Axon regeneration; Dibutyryl cyclic AMP (db-cAMP); Microglia/macrophages; Neuroprotection; Plasticity; SV2; Synaptotagmin.