The capacity of CNS neurons for axonal regrowth after injury decreases as the age of the animal at time of injury increases. After spinal cord lesions at birth, there is extensive regenerative growth into and beyond a transplant of fetal spinal cord tissue placed at the injury site. After injury in the adult, however, although host corticospinal and brainstem-spinal axons project into the transplant, their distribution is restricted to within 200 micron of the host/transplant border. The aim of this study was to determine if the administration of neurotrophic factors could increase the capacity of mature CNS neurons for regrowth after injury. Spinal cord hemisection lesions were made at cervical or thoracic levels in adult rats. Transplants of E14 fetal spinal cord tissue were placed into the lesion site. The following neurotrophic factors were administered at the site of injury and transplantation: brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), neurotrophin-4 (NT-4), ciliary-derived neurotrophic factor (CNTF), or vehicle alone. After 1-2 months survival, neuroanatomical tracing and immunocytochemical methods were used to examine the growth of host axons within the transplants. The neurotrophin administration led to increases in the extent of serotonergic, noradrenergic, and corticospinal axonal ingrowth within the transplants. The influence of the administration of the neurotrophins on the growth of injured CNS axons was not a generalized effect of growth factors per se, since the administration of CNTF had no effect on the growth of any of the descending CNS axons tested. These results indicate that in addition to influencing the survival of developing CNS and PNS neurons, neurotrophic factors are able to exert a neurotropic influence on injured mature CNS neurons by increasing their axonal growth within a transplant.
Copyright 1997 Academic Press.