Permissive Schwann cell graft/spinal cord interfaces for axon regeneration

Ryan R. Williams, Martha Henao, Damien D. Pearse, Mary Bartlett Bunge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The transplantation of autologous Schwann cells (SCs) to repair the injured spinal cord is currently being evaluated in a clinical trial. In support, this study determined properties of spinal cord/SC bridge interfaces that enabled regenerated brainstem axons to cross them, possibly leading to improvement in rat hindlimb movement. Fluid bridges of SCs and Matrigel were placed in complete spinal cord transections. Compared to pregelled bridges of SCs and Matrigel, they improved regeneration of brainstem axons across the rostral interface. The regenerating brainstem axons formed synaptophysin+ bouton-like terminals and contacted MAP2A+ dendrites at the caudal interface. Brainstem axon regeneration was directly associated with glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP+) astrocyte processes that elongated into the SC bridge. Electron microscopy revealed that axons, SCs, and astrocytes were enclosed together within tunnels bounded by a continuous basal lamina. Neuroglycan (NG2) expression was associated with these tunnels. One week after injury, the GFAP+ processes coexpressed nestin and brain lipid-binding protein, and the tips of GFAP+/NG2+ processes extended into the bridges together with the regenerating brainstem axons. Both brainstem axon regeneration and number of GFAP+ processes in the bridges correlated with improvement in hindlimb locomotion. Following SCI, astrocytes may enter a reactive state that prohibits axon regeneration. Elongation of astrocyte processes into SC bridges, however, and formation of NG2+ tunnels enable brainstem axon regeneration and improvement in function. It is important for spinal cord repair to define conditions that favor elongation of astrocytes into lesions/transplants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-131
Number of pages17
JournalCell transplantation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Astrocytes
  • Axon regeneration
  • Interface
  • Neuroglycan (NG2)
  • Schwann cells (SCs)
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Transplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Transplantation
  • Biomedical Engineering


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