Journal of Neurophysiology

Global Gene Expression Analysis of Rodent Motor Neurons Following Spinal Cord Injury Associates Molecular Mechanisms With Development of Postinjury Spasticity

J. Wienecke, A-C. Westerdahl, H. Hultborn, O. Kiehn, J. Ryge


Spinal cord injury leads to severe problems involving impaired motor, sensory, and autonomic functions. After spinal injury there is an initial phase of hyporeflexia followed by hyperreflexia, often referred to as spasticity. Previous studies have suggested a relationship between the reappearance of endogenous plateau potentials in motor neurons and the development of spasticity after spinalization. To unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying the increased excitability of motor neurons and the return of plateau potentials below a spinal cord injury we investigated changes in gene expression in this cell population. We adopted a rat tail-spasticity model with a caudal spinal transection that causes a progressive development of spasticity from its onset after 2 to 3 wk until 2 mo postinjury. Gene expression changes of fluorescently identified tail motor neurons were studied 21 and 60 days postinjury. The motor neurons undergo substantial transcriptional regulation in response to injury. The patterns of differential expression show similarities at both time points, although there are 20% more differentially expressed genes 60 days compared with 21 days postinjury. The study identifies targets of regulation relating to both ion channels and receptors implicated in the endogenous expression of plateaux. The regulation of excitatory and inhibitory signal transduction indicates a shift in the balance toward increased excitability, where the glutamatergic N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor complex together with cholinergic system is up-regulated and the γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptor system is down-regulated. The genes of the pore-forming proteins Cav1.3 and Nav1.6 were not up-regulated, whereas genes of proteins such as nonpore-forming subunits and intracellular pathways known to modulate receptor and channel trafficking, kinetics, and conductivity showed marked regulation. On the basis of the identified changes in global gene expression in motor neurons, the present investigation opens up for new potential targets for treatment of motor dysfunction following spinal cord injury.


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