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Cervical spinal erythropoietin induces phrenic motor facilitation via extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and Akt signaling

Dale, EA;Satriotomo, I;Mitchell, GS;

Erythropoietin (EPO) is typically known for its role in erythropoiesis but is also a potent neurotrophic/neuroprotective factor for spinal motor neurons. Another trophic factor regulated by hypoxia-inducible factor-1, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), signals via ERK and Akt activation to elicit long-lasting phrenic motor facilitation (pMF). Because EPO also signals via ERK and Akt activation, we tested the hypothesis that EPO elicits similar pMF. Using retrograde labeling and immunohistochemical techniques, we demonstrate in adult, male, Sprague Dawley rats that EPO and its receptor, EPO-R, are expressed in identified phrenic motor neurons. Intrathecal EPO at C4 elicits long-lasting pMF; integrated phrenic nerve burst amplitude increased >90 min after injection (63 12% baseline 90 min after injection; p < 0.001). EPO increased phosphorylation (and presumed activation) of ERK (1.6-fold vs controls; p < 0.05) in phrenic motor neurons; EPO also increased pAkt (1.6-fold vs controls; p < 0.05). EPO-induced pMF was abolished by the MEK/ERK inhibitor U0126 [1,4-diamino-2,3-dicyano-1,4-bis(o-aminophenylmercapto)butadiene] and the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt inhibitor LY294002 [2-(4-morpholinyl)-8-phenyl-1(4H)-benzopyran-4-one], demonstrating that ERK MAP kinases and Akt are both required for EPO-induced pMF. Pretreatment with U0126 and LY294002 decreased both pERK and pAkt in phrenic motor neurons (p < 0.05), indicating a complex interaction between these kinases. We conclude that EPO elicits spinal plasticity in respiratory motor control. Because EPO expression is hypoxia sensitive, it may play a role in respiratory plasticity in conditions of prolonged or recurrent low oxygen.