Background: We previously reported that functional recovery of rats with spinal cord contusions can occur after acute transplantation of neural stem cells distal to the site of injury. To investigate the effects of timing of administration of human neural stem cell (hNSC) distal to the site of spinal cord injury on functional outcomes in an animal model.
Methods: Thirty-six adult female Long-Evans hooded rats were randomized into three experimental and three control groups with six animals in each group. The T10 level was exposed via posterior laminectomy, and a moderate spinal cord contusion was induced by the Multicenter Animal Spinal Cord Injury Study Impactor (MASCIS, W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, Piscataway, NJ, USA). The animals received either an intrathecal injection of hNSCs or control media through a separate distal laminotomy immediately, one week or four weeks after the induced spinal cord injury. Observers were blinded to the interventions. Functional assessment was measured immediately after injury and weekly using the Basso, Beattie, Bresnahan (BBB) locomotor rating score.
Results: A statistically significant functional improvement was seen in all three time groups when compared to their controls (acute, mean 9.2 vs. 4.5, P=0.016; subacute, mean 11.1 vs. 6.8, P=0.042; chronic, mean 11.3 vs. 5.8, P=0.035). Although there was no significant difference in the final BBB scores comparing the groups that received hNSCs, the group which achieved the greatest improvement from the time of cell injection was the subacute group (+10.3) and was significantly greater than the chronic group (+5.1, P=0.02).
Conclusions: The distal intrathecal transplantation of hNSCs into the contused spinal cord of a rat led to significant functional recovery of the spinal cord when injected in the acute, subacute and chronic phases of spinal cord injury (SCI), although the greatest gains appeared to be in the subacute timing group.