TrkA+ Neurons Induce Pathologic Regeneration After Soft Tissue Trauma

Stem Cells Transl Med. 2022 Nov 18;11(11):1165-1176. doi: 10.1093/stcltm/szac073.


Heterotopic ossification (HO) is a dynamic, complex pathologic process that often occurs after severe polytrauma trauma, resulting in an abnormal mesenchymal stem cell differentiation leading to ectopic bone growth in soft-tissues including tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The abnormal bone structure and location induce pain and loss of mobility. Recently, we observed that NGF (Nerve growth factor)-responsive TrkA (Tropomyosin receptor kinase A)-expressing nerves invade sites of soft-tissue trauma, and this is a necessary feature for heterotopic bone formation at sites of injury. Here, we assayed the effects of the partial TrkA agonist Gambogic amide (GA) in peritendinous heterotopic bone after extremity trauma. Mice underwent HO induction using the burn/tenotomy model with or without systemic treatment with GA, followed by an examination of the injury site via radiographic imaging, histology, and immunohistochemistry. Single-cell RNA Sequencing confirmed an increase in neurotrophin signaling activity after HO-inducing extremity trauma. Next, TrkA agonism led to injury site hyper-innervation, more brisk expression of cartilage antigens within the injured tendon, and a shift from FGF to TGFβ signaling activity among injury site cells. Nine weeks after injury, this culminated in higher overall levels of heterotopic bone among GA-treated animals. In summary, these studies further link injury site hyper-innervation with increased vascular ingrowth and ultimately heterotopic bone after trauma. In the future, modulation of TrkA signaling may represent a potent means to prevent the trauma-induced heterotopic bone formation and improve tissue regeneration.

Keywords: Gambogic amide; NGF; TrkA; ectopic bone; endochondral ossification; heterotopic bone; mesenchymal stem cells; nerve growth factor; osteogenesis; sensory innervation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Burns*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Ossification, Heterotopic* / pathology
  • Osteogenesis
  • Tenotomy