Mammals exhibit poor recovery after injury to the spinal cord, where the loss of neurons and neuronal connections can be functionally devastating. In contrast, it has long been appreciated that many non-mammalian vertebrate species exhibit significant spontaneous functional recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI). Identifying the biological responses that support an organism's inability or ability to recover function after SCI is an important scientific and medical question. While recent advances have been made in understanding the responses to SCI in mammals, we remain without an effective clinical therapy for SCI. A comparative biological approach to understanding responses to SCI in non-mammalian vertebrates will yield important insights into mechanisms that promote recovery after SCI. Presently, mechanistic studies aimed at elucidating responses, both intrinsic and extrinsic to neurons, that result in different regenerative capacities after SCI across vertebrates are just in their early stages. There are several inhibitory mechanisms proposed to impede recovery from SCI in mammals, including reactive gliosis and scarring, myelin associated proteins, and a suboptimal immune response. One hypothesis to explain the robust regenerative capacity of several non-mammalian vertebrates is a lack of some or all of these inhibitory signals. This review presents the current knowledge of immune responses to SCI in several non-mammalian species that achieve anatomical and functional recovery after SCI. This subject is of growing interest, as studies increasingly show both beneficial and detrimental roles of the immune response following SCI in mammals. A long-term goal of biomedical research in all experimental models of SCI is to understand how to promote functional recovery after SCI in humans. Therefore, understanding immune responses to SCI in non-mammalian vertebrates that achieve functional recovery spontaneously may identify novel strategies to modulate immune responses in less regenerative species and promote recovery after SCI.
School of Medicine
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation