Millions of patients suffer from debilitating spinal cord injury (SCI) without effective treatments. Elevating cAMP promotes CNS neuron growth in the presence of growth-inhibiting molecules. cAMP's effects on neuron growth is partly mediated by Epac, comprising Epac1 and Epac2 — the latter predominantly expresses in postnatal neural tissue. Here, we hypothesized that Epac2 activation would enhance axonal outgrowth after SCI. Using in vitro assays, we demonstrated for the first time that Epac2 activation using a specific soluble agonist (S-220) significantly enhanced neurite outgrowth of postnatal rat cortical neurons and markedly overcame the inhibition by chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans and mature astrocytes on neuron growth. We further investigated the novel potential of Epac2 activation in promoting axonal outgrowth by an ex vivo rat model of SCI mimicking post-SCI environment in vivo and by delivering S-220 via a self-assembling Fmoc-based hydrogel that has suitable properties for SCI repair. We demonstrated that S-220 significantly enhanced axonal outgrowth across the lesion gaps in the organotypic spinal cord slices, compared with controls. Furthermore, we elucidated for the first time that Epac2 activation profoundly modulated the lesion environment by reducing astrocyte/microglial activation and transforming astrocytes into elongated morphology that guided outgrowing axons. Finally, we showed that S-220, when delivered by the gel at 3 weeks after contusion SCI in male adult rats, resulted in significantly better locomotor performance for up to 4 weeks post-treatment. Our data demonstrate a promising therapeutic potential of S-220 in SCI, via beneficial effects on neurons and glia post-injury to facilitate axonal outgrowth.
Bibliographical noteThis work was supported by the International Spinal Research Trust, Scottish Rugby Union and RS McDonald Charitable Trust. We thank Professor Divya Chari for training with the ex vivo model. We also thank Dr Amer Syed, Ms Elena Moratal-Torres, Mr James W. Thomson, Ms Victoria Torsteinsbø and Dr Marieta Georgieva for their assistance with rheology and in vitro experiments.
- axonal growth
- spinal cord injury