T cell deficiency in spinal cord injury: Altered locomotor recovery and whole-genome transcriptional analysis

David Satzer, Catherine Miller, Jacob Maxon, Joseph Voth, Christina DiBartolomeo, Rebecca Mahoney, James R. Dutton, Walter C. Low, Ann M. Parr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: T cells undergo autoimmunization following spinal cord injury (SCI) and play both protective and destructive roles during the recovery process. T cell-deficient athymic nude (AN) rats exhibit improved functional recovery when compared to immunocompetent Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats following spinal cord transection. Methods: In the present study, we evaluated locomotor recovery in SD and AN rats following moderate spinal cord contusion. To explain variable locomotor outcome, we assessed whole-genome expression using RNA sequencing, in the acute (1week post-injury) and chronic (8weeks post-injury) phases of recovery. Results: Athymic nude rats demonstrated greater locomotor function than SD rats only at 1week post-injury, coinciding with peak T cell infiltration in immunocompetent rats. Genetic markers for T cells and helper T cells were acutely enriched in SD rats, while AN rats expressed genes for Th2 cells, cytotoxic T cells, NK cells, mast cells, IL-1a, and IL-6 at higher levels. Acute enrichment of cell death-related genes suggested that SD rats undergo secondary tissue damage from T cells. Additionally, SD rats exhibited increased acute expression of voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel-related genes. However, AN rats demonstrated greater chronic expression of cell death-associated genes and less expression of axon-related genes. Immunostaining for macrophage markers revealed no T cell-dependent difference in the acute macrophage infiltrate. Conclusions: We put forth a model in which T cells facilitate early tissue damage, demyelination, and Kv channel dysregulation in SD rats following contusion SCI. However, compensatory features of the immune response in AN rats cause delayed tissue death and limit long-term recovery. T cell inhibition combined with other neuroprotective treatment may thus be a promising therapeutic avenue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number74
JournalBMC neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 6 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Satzer et al.


  • Axonal regeneration
  • Inflammation
  • Locomotor function
  • Neuronal cell death
  • Spinal cord injury


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