Respiratory impairment due to damage of the spinal respiratory motoneurons and interruption of the descending drives from brainstem premotor neurons to spinal respiratory motoneurons is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality following cervical spinal cord injury. The present study was designed to evaluate the therapeutic effectiveness of delayed transplantation of fetal spinal cord (FSC) tissue on respiratory function in rats with mid-cervical spinal cord injury. Embryonic day-14 rat FSC tissue was transplanted into a C4 spinal cord hemilesion cavity in adult male rats at 1 week postinjury. The histological results showed that FSC-derived grafts can survive, fill the lesion cavity, and differentiate into neurons and astrocytes at 8 weeks post-transplantation. Some FSC-derived graft neurons exhibited specific neurochemical markers of neurotransmitter (e.g., serotonin, noradrenalin, or acetylcholine). Moreover, a robust expression of glutamatergic and γ-aminobutyric acid-ergic fibers was observed within FSC-derived grafts. Retrograde tracing results indicated that there was a connection between FSC-derived grafts and host phrenic nucleus. Neurophysiological recording of the phrenic nerve demonstrated that phrenic burst amplitude ipsilateral to the lesion was significantly greater in injured animals that received FSC transplantation than in those that received buffer transplantation under high respiratory drives. These results suggest that delayed FSC transplantation may have the potential to repair the injured spinal cord and promote respiratory functional recovery after mid-cervical spinal cord injury.
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