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The extent of extra-axonal tissue damage determines the levels of CSPG upregulation and the success of experimental axon regeneration in the CNS

Kim, J;Sajid, MS;Trakhtenberg, EF;

The failure of mature central nervous system (CNS) projection neurons to regenerate axons over long distances drastically limits the recovery of functions lost after various CNS injuries and diseases. Although a number of manipulations that stimulate some degree of axon regeneration that overcomes the inhibitory environment after CNS injury have been discovered, the extent of regeneration remains very limited, emphasizing the need for improved therapies. Regenerating axons need nerve tissue environment capable of supporting their growth, and severe extra-axonal tissue damage and remodeling after injury may disrupt such environment. Here, we used traumatic injury to the mouse optic nerve as a model system to investigate how the extent of extra-axonal tissue damage affects experimental axon regeneration. Axon regeneration was stimulated by the shRNA-mediated knockdown (KD) of Pten gene expression in the retinal ganglion cells, and the extent of extra-axonal tissue damage was varied by changing the duration of optic nerve crush. Although no axons were spared using either 1 or 5seconds crush, we found that Pten KD-stimulated axon regeneration was significantly reduced in 5seconds compared with 1second crush. The more severe extra-axonal tissue damage did not cause tissue atrophy, but led to significantly higher upregulation of axon growth-inhibiting chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) in the glial scar and also enlarged glial scar size, compared with less severely damaged tissue. Thus, the success of axon-regenerating approaches that target neuronal intrinsic mechanisms of axon growth is dependent on the preservation of appropriate extra-axonal tissue environment, which may need to be co-concurrently repaired by tissue remodeling methods.