Demyelination contributes to the dysfunction after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). We explored whether the combination of neurotrophic factors and transplantation of adult rat spinal cord oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) could enhance remyelination and functional recovery after SCI. Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) was the most effective neurotrophic factor to promote oligodendrocyte (OL) differentiation and survival of OPCs in vitro. OPCs were infected with retroviruses expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) or CNTF and transplanted into the contused adult thoracic spinal cord 9 d after injury. Seven weeks after transplantation, the grafted OPCs survived and integrated into the injured spinal cord. The survival of grafted CNTF-OPCs increased fourfold compared with EGFP-OPCs. The grafted OPCs differentiated into adenomatus polyposis coli (APC+) OLs, and CNTF significantly increased the percentage of APC+ OLs from grafted OPCs. Immunofluorescent and immunoelectron microscopic analyses showed that the grafted OPCs formed central myelin sheaths around the axons in the injured spinal cord. The number of OL-remyelinated axons in ventrolateral funiculus (VLF) or lateral funiculus (LF) at the injured epicenter was significantly increased in animals that received CNTF-OPC grafts compared with all other groups. Importantly, 75% of rats receiving CNTF-OPC grafts recovered transcranial magnetic motor-evoked potential and magnetic interenlargement reflex responses, indicating that conduction through the demyelinated axons in VLF or LF, respectively, was partially restored. More importantly, recovery of hindlimb locomotor function was significantly enhanced in animals receiving grafts of CNTF-OPCs. Thus, combined treatment with OPC grafts expressing CNTF can enhance remyelination and facilitate functional recovery after traumatic SCI.
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