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Inhibition of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor 2 Exacerbates Loss of Lower Motor Neurons and Axons during Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis

Stanojlovic, M;Pang, X;Lin, Y;Stone, S;Cvetanovic, M;Lin, W;

Multiple sclerosis (MS) and its animal model experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) are inflammatory demyelinating and neurodegenerative diseases in the central nervous system (CNS). It is believed that MS and EAE are initiated by autoreactive T lymphocytes that recognize myelin antigens; however, the mechanisms responsible for neurodegeneration in these diseases remain elusive. Data indicate that vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) plays a role in the development of MS and EAE. Interestingly, VEGF-A is regarded as a neurotrophic factor in the CNS that promotes neuron survival and neurogenesis in various neurodegenerative diseases by activating VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR2). In this study, we sought to explore the role of the VEGF-A/VEGFR2 signaling in neurodegeneration in MS and EAE. We showed that the expression of VEGF-A was decreased in the spinal cord during EAE and that VEGFR2 was activated in lower motor neurons in the spinal cord of EAE mice. Interestingly, we found that treatment with SU5416, a selective VEGFR2 inhibitor, starting after the onset of EAE clinical symptoms exacerbated lower motor neuron loss and axon loss in the lumbar spinal cord of mice undergoing EAE, but did not alter Purkinje neuron loss in the cerebellum or upper motor neuron loss in the cerebral cortex. Moreover, SU5416 treatment had a minimal effect on EAE clinical symptoms as well as inflammation, demyelination, and oligodendrocyte loss in the lumbar spinal cord. These results imply the protective effects of the VEGF-A/VEGFR2 signaling on lower motor neurons and axons in the spinal cord in MS and EAE.