Soluble TNFα Signaling within the Spinal Cord Contributes to the Development of Autonomic Dysreflexia and Ensuing Vascular and Immune Dysfunction after Spinal Cord Injury

J Neurosci. 2018 Apr 25;38(17):4146-4162. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2376-17.2018. Epub 2018 Apr 2.


Cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to infection are leading causes of morbidity and mortality for individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). A major contributor to these is autonomic dysreflexia (AD), an amplified reaction of the autonomic nervous system (hallmarked by severe hypertension) in response to sensory stimuli below the injury. Maladaptive plasticity of the spinal sympathetic reflex circuit below the SCI results in AD intensification over time. Mechanisms underlying this maladaptive plasticity are poorly understood, restricting the identification of treatments. Thus, no preventative treatments are currently available. Neuroinflammation has been implicated in other pathologies associated with hyperexcitable neural circuits. Specifically, the soluble form of TNFα (sTNFα) is known to play a role in neuroplasticity. We hypothesize that persistent expression of sTNFα in spinal cord underlies AD exacerbation. To test this, we intrathecally administered XPro1595, a biologic that renders sTNFα nonfunctional, after complete, high-level SCI in female rats. This dramatically attenuated the intensification of colorectal distension-induced and naturally occurring AD events. This improvement is mediated via decreased sprouting of nociceptive primary afferents and activation of the spinal sympathetic reflex circuit. We also examined peripheral vascular function using ex vivo pressurized arterial preparations and immune function via flow cytometric analysis of splenocytes. Diminishing AD via pharmacological inhibition of sTNFα mitigated ensuing vascular hypersensitivity and immune dysfunction. This is the first demonstration that neuroinflammation-induced sTNFα is critical for altering the spinal sympathetic reflex circuit, elucidating a novel mechanism for AD. Importantly, we identify the first potential pharmacological, prophylactic treatment for this life-threatening syndrome.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Autonomic dysreflexia (AD), a disorder that develops after spinal cord injury (SCI) and is hallmarked by sudden, extreme hypertension, contributes to cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to infection, respectively, two leading causes of mortality and morbidity in SCI patients. We demonstrate that neuroinflammation-induced expression of soluble TNFα plays a critical role in AD, elucidating a novel underlying mechanism. We found that intrathecal administration after SCI of a biologic that inhibits soluble TNFα signaling dramatically attenuates AD and significantly reduces AD-associated peripheral vascular and immune dysfunction. We identified mechanisms behind diminished plasticity of neuronal populations within the spinal sympathetic reflex circuit. This study is the first to pinpoint a potential pharmacological, prophylactic strategy to attenuate AD and ensuing cardiovascular and immune dysfunction.

Keywords: autonomic dysreflexia; plasticity; soluble TNFα, spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / metabolism*
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / physiopathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Mesenteric Arteries / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Spleen / physiopathology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology


  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • XENP 1595