Neuroprotection in the Injured Spinal Cord : Novel Strategies using Immunomodulation, Stem cell Transplantation and Hyaluronic acid Hydrogel carriers

Abstract: The overall aim of this thesis was to establish strategies to minimize secondary damage to the injured spinal cord. Secondary damage that follows spinal cord injury (SCI) involves inflammatory and excitotoxic pathways. Regulation of these pathways using immunomodulatory and neuroprotective substances potentially protects the injured spinal cord from further damage. We also developed and studied resorbable biomaterials to be used as carriers for potential neuroprotectants to the injured spinal cord.We used transversal spinal cord slice cultures (SCSCs) derived from postnatal mice as a model. SCSCs were maintained on different biomaterials and were studied after treatment with immunomodulatory and/or neurotrophic factors. They were further excitotoxically injured and subsequently treated with interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL1RA) or by neural crest stem cell (NCSC)-transplantation.The results show that biocompatible and resorbable hydrogels based on hyaluronic acid (HA) preserved neurons in SCSCs to a much higher extent than a conventional collagen-based biomaterial or standard polyethylene terephthalate (PET) membrane inserts. Glial activation was limited in the cultures maintained on HA-based hydrogel. The anti-inflammatory factor IL1RA protected SCSCs from degenerative mechanisms that occur during in vitro incubation, and IL1RA also protected SCSCs from excitotoxic injury induced by N-Methyl-d-Aspartate (NMDA). IL1RA specifically protected neurons that resided in the ventral horn, while other neuronal populations such as dorsal horn neurons and Renshaw cells did not respond to treatment. Finally, transplantation of NCSCs onto excitotoxically injured SCSCs protected from neuronal loss, apoptosis and glial activation, while NCSCs remained undifferentiated.The results presented in this thesis indicate that carriers based on HA seem to be more suitable than conventional collagen-based biomaterials since they enhance neuronal survival per se. The observed neuroprotection is likely due to biomechanical properties of HA. IL1RA protects SCSCs from spontaneous degeneration and from NMDA-induced injury, suggesting that excitotoxic mechanisms can be modulated through anti-inflammatory pathways. Different neuronal populations are affected by IL1RA to various degrees, suggesting that a combination of different neuroprotectants should be used in treatment strategies after SCI. Finally, NCSCs seem to protect SCSCs from excitotoxic injury through paracrine actions, since they remain undifferentiated and do not migrate into the tissue during in vitro incubation.It seems that combinations of neuroprotectants and carrier substances should be considered rather than one single strategy when designing future treatments for SCI. Incorporation of neuroprotectants such as IL1RA combined with stem cells in injectable biocompatible carriers based on HA is the final goal of our group in the treatment of SCI.