The current dogma in neural regeneration research implies that chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) inhibit plasticity and regeneration in the adult central nervous system (CNS). We argue that the role of the CSPGs can be reversed from inhibition to activation by developmentally expressed CSPG-binding factors. Heparin-binding growth-associated molecule (HB-GAM; also designated as pleiotrophin) has been studied as a candidate molecule that might modulate the role of CSPG matrices in plasticity and regeneration. Studies in vitro show that in the presence of soluble HB-GAM chondroitin sulfate (CS) chains of CSPGs display an enhancing effect on neurite outgrowth. Based on the in vitro studies, we suggest a model according to which the HB-GAM/CS complex binds to the neuron surface receptor glypican-2, which induces neurite growth. Furthermore, HB-GAM masks the CS binding sites of the neurite outgrowth inhibiting receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase sigma (PTPσ), which may contribute to the HB-GAM-induced regenerative effect. In vivo studies using two-photon imaging after local HB-GAM injection into prick-injury of the cerebral cortex reveal regeneration of dendrites that has not been previously demonstrated after injuries of the mammalian nervous system. In the spinal cord, two-photon imaging displays HB-GAM-induced axonal regeneration. Studies on the HB-GAM/CS mechanism in vitro and in vivo are expected to pave the way for drug development for injuries of brain and spinal cord.
Keywords: CNS injury; HB-GAM; PTEN; aggrecan; axon regeneration; dendrite regeneration; glypican; pleiotrophin; proteoglycans.