During the reporting period, we have contined to demonstrate that human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors can be produced in vitro. These motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors are transplanted into the rat spinal cord after a lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury and repair of injured roots in the form of surgical re-attachment of the roots to the spinal cord surface. The lumbosacral ventral root avulsion injury mimics cauda equina and conus medullaris forms of spinal cord injury, an underserved patient population with paralysis of the legs and loss of bladder and bowel funcion. In this clinically relevant injury and repair model in rats, we have during the past several months demonstrated that transplanted human embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors are able to survive in the spinal cord of rats over extended periods of time with large numbers of neurons being detectable in the spinal cord grey matter at 1, 2, and 10 weeks after the injury, surgical root repair, and transplantation of the cells. The long term viability of translanted cells suggests integration of the transplanted cells in the host tissues. Some of the cells show expression of motor neuron markers, such as the transcription factor Hb9, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry and light microscopy.
Additional studies have been performed during this reporting period to address whether the transplanted cells may extend axons into the replanted lumbosacral ventral roots. Interestingly, many human axons were detected in the replanted ventral roots using immunohistochemitry and light microscopy for the detection of human processes. Additional immunohistochemistry demonstrated that these processes contained neurofilaments, which are characteristic for axons. In control experiments, we showed that avulsed roots, which had not been replanted into the spinal cord, did not exhibit any human axons. As expected, surgical reconnection of lesioned ventral roots to the spinal cord is needed in order for the axons of the transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors to be extended into avulsed ventral roots. Furthermore, in a series of sham operated animals without ventral root lesions, human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors were also transplanted into the rat spinal cord. Interestingly, the transplanted human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors were here also able to extend axons into ventral roots, even though the ventral roots had never been lesions. We conclude that transplanted human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons are capable of extending axons into both intact ventrl roots and into ventral roots, which had been avulsed and surgically reattached to the spinal cord using a replantation procedure.
In functional studies, we have performed urodynamic studies and voiding behavioral studies in rats after the transplantation of human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors. These studies are still ongoing with additional experiments being performed. However, preliminary studies suggest that the combination of acute repair of avulsed ventral roots and cell transplantation results in a gradual improvement of voiding reflexes. Ongoing studies are addressing the relative contribution that may be provided by the replantation of avulsed ventral roots and by the transplantation of human motor neurons and motor neuron progenitors into the rat spinal cord.