Treatment with testosterone is neuroprotective/neurotherapeutic after a variety of motoneuron injuries. Here we assessed whether testosterone might have similar beneficial effects after spinal cord injury (SCI). Young adult female rats received either sham or T9 spinal cord contusion injuries and were implanted with blank or testosterone-filled Silastic capsules. Four weeks later, motoneurons innervating the vastus lateralis muscle of the quadriceps were labeled with cholera toxin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase, and dendritic arbors were reconstructed in three dimensions. Soma volume, motoneuron number, lesion volume, and tissue sparing were also assessed, as were muscle weight, fiber cross-sectional area, and motor endplate size and density. Contusion injury resulted in large lesions, with no significant differences in lesion volume, percent total volume of lesion, or spared white or gray matter between SCI groups. SCI with or without testosterone treatment also had no effect on the number or soma volume of quadriceps motoneurons. However, SCI resulted in a decrease in dendritic length of quadriceps motoneurons in untreated animals, and this decrease was completely prevented by treatment with testosterone. Similarly, the vastus lateralis muscle weights and fiber cross-sectional areas of untreated SCI animals were smaller than those of sham-surgery controls, and these reductions were both prevented by testosterone treatment. No effects on motor endplate area or density were observed across treatment groups. These findings suggest that regressive changes in motoneuron and muscle morphology seen after SCI can be prevented by testosterone treatment, further supporting a role for testosterone as a neurotherapeutic agent in the injured nervous system.
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