Regulating Endogenous Neural Stem Cell Activation to Promote Spinal Cord Injury Repair

Cells. 2022 Mar 1;11(5):846. doi: 10.3390/cells11050846.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) affects millions of individuals worldwide. Currently, there is no cure, and treatment options to promote neural recovery are limited. An innovative approach to improve outcomes following SCI involves the recruitment of endogenous populations of neural stem cells (NSCs). NSCs can be isolated from the neuroaxis of the central nervous system (CNS), with brain and spinal cord populations sharing common characteristics (as well as regionally distinct phenotypes). Within the spinal cord, a number of NSC sub-populations have been identified which display unique protein expression profiles and proliferation kinetics. Collectively, the potential for NSCs to impact regenerative medicine strategies hinges on their cardinal properties, including self-renewal and multipotency (the ability to generate de novo neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes). Accordingly, endogenous NSCs could be harnessed to replace lost cells and promote structural repair following SCI. While studies exploring the efficacy of this approach continue to suggest its potential, many questions remain including those related to heterogeneity within the NSC pool, the interaction of NSCs with their environment, and the identification of factors that can enhance their response. We discuss the current state of knowledge regarding populations of endogenous spinal cord NSCs, their niche, and the factors that regulate their behavior. In an attempt to move towards the goal of enhancing neural repair, we highlight approaches that promote NSC activation following injury including the modulation of the microenvironment and parenchymal cells, pharmaceuticals, and applied electrical stimulation.

Keywords: differentiation; heterogeneity; microenvironment; migration; neural repair; neural stem cells; proliferation kinetics; spinal cord injury; spinal cord niche.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes
  • Humans
  • Neural Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / therapy