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LAR inhibitory peptide promotes recovery of diaphragm function and multiple forms of respiratory neural circuit plasticity after cervical spinal cord injury

Cheng, L;Sami, A;Ghosh, B;Urban, MW;Heinsinger, NM;Liang, SS;Smith, GM;Wright, MC;Li, S;Lepore, AC;

Chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs), up-regulated in and around the lesion after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), are key extracellular matrix inhibitory molecules that limit axon growth and consequent recovery of function. CSPG-mediated inhibition occurs via interactions with axonal receptors, including leukocyte common antigen- related (LAR) phosphatase. We tested the effects of a novel LAR inhibitory peptide in rats after hemisection at cervical level 2, a SCI model in which bulbospinal inspiratory neural circuitry originating in the medullary rostral ventral respiratory group (rVRG) becomes disconnected from phrenic motor neuron (PhMN) targets in cervical spinal cord, resulting in persistent partial-to-complete diaphragm paralysis. LAR peptide was delivered by a soaked gelfoam, which was placed directly over the injury site immediately after C2 hemisection and replaced at 1week post-injury. Axotomized rVRG axons originating in ipsilateral medulla or spared rVRG fibers originating in contralateral medulla were separately assessed by anterograde tracing via AAV2-mCherry injection into rVRG. At 8weeks post-hemisection, LAR peptide significantly improved ipsilateral hemidiaphragm function, as assessed in vivo with electromyography recordings. LAR peptide promoted robust regeneration of ipsilateral-originating rVRG axons into and through the lesion site and into intact caudal spinal cord to reach PhMNs located at C3-C5 levels. Furthermore, regenerating rVRG axons re-established putative monosynaptic connections with their PhMNs targets. In addition, LAR peptide stimulated robust sprouting of both modulatory serotonergic axons and contralateral-originating rVRG fibers within the PhMN pool ipsilateral/caudal to the hemisection. Our study demonstrates that targeting LAR-based axon growth inhibition promotes multiple forms of respiratory neural circuit plasticity and provides a new peptide-based therapeutic strategy to ameliorate the devastating respiratory consequences of SCI.