Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) can stimulate processes to promote regeneration, including cell proliferation and modulation of inflammation. Specific miRNA expression panels have been established to define correlations with regulatory targets within these pathways. This study aims to investigate the influence of low-energy ESWT-applied within the subacute and chronic phase of SCI (spinal cord injury) on recovery in a rat spinal cord contusion model. Outcomes were evaluated by gait analysis, µCT and histological analysis of spinal cords. A panel of serum-derived miRNAs after SCI and after ESWT was investigated to identify injury-, regeneration- and treatment-associated expression patterns. Rats receiving ESWT showed significant improvement in motor function in both a subacute and a chronic experimental setting. This effect was not reflected in changes in morphology, µCT-parameters or histological markers after ESWT. Expression analysis of various miRNAs, however, revealed changes after SCI and ESWT, with increased miR-375, indicating a neuroprotective effect, and decreased miR-382-5p potentially improving neuroplasticity via its regulatory involvement with BDNF. We were able to demonstrate a functional improvement of ESWT-treated animals after SCI in a subacute and chronic setting. Furthermore, the identification of miR-375 and miR-382-5p could potentially provide new targets for therapeutic intervention in future studies.
Keywords: contusion injury; extracorporeal shockwave therapy; microRNAs; motor function; neuroregeneration; spinal cord injury.