The Journal Of Neuroscience : The Official Journal Of The Society For Neuroscience
Injury to the peripheral axons of sensory neurons strongly enhances the regeneration of their central axons in the spinal cord. It remains unclear on what molecules that initiate such conditioning effect. Since ATP is released extracellularly by nerve and other tissue injury, we hypothesize that injection of ATP into a peripheral nerve might mimic the stimulatory effect of nerve injury on the regenerative state of the primary sensory neurons. We found that a single injection of 6 l of 150 M ATP into female rat sciatic nerve quadrupled the number of axons growing into a lesion epicenter in spinal cord after a concomitant dorsal column transection. A second boost ATP injection one week after the first one markedly reinforced the stimulatory effect of a single injection. Single ATP injection increased expression of phospho-STAT3 and GAP43, two markers of regenerative activity, in sensory neurons. Double ATP injections sustained the activation of phospho-STAT3 and GAP43, which may account for the marked axonal growth across the lesion epicenter. Similar studies carried out on P2X7 or P2Y2 receptor knockout mice indicate P2Y2 receptors are involved in the activation of STAT3 after ATP injection or conditioning lesion, while P2X7 receptors are not. Injection of ATP at 150 M caused little Wallerian degeneration and behavioral tests showed no significant long-term adverse effects on sciatic nerve functions. The results in this study reveal possible mechanisms underlying the stimulation of regenerative programs and suggest a practical strategy for stimulating axonal regeneration following spinal cord injury.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTInjury of peripheral axons of sensory neurons has been known to strongly enhance the regeneration of their central axons in the spinal cord. In this study, we found that injection of ATP into a peripheral nerve can mimic the effect of peripheral nerve injury and significantly increase the number of sensory axons growing across lesion epicenter in the spinal cord. ATP injection increased expression of several markers for regenerative activity in sensory neurons, including phospho-STAT3 and GAP43. ATP injection did not cause significant long-term adverse effects on the functions of the injected nerve. These results may lead to clinically applicable strategies for enhancing neuronal responses that support regeneration of injured axons.