Molecular mechanisms underlying effects of neural stem cells against traumatic axonal injury

Enyin Wang, Junling Gao, Qin Yang, Margaret O. Parsley, Tiffany J. Dunn, Lin Zhang, Douglas S. Dewitt, Larry Denner, Donald S. Prough, Ping Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Transplantation of neural stem cells (NSCs) improves functional outcomes following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Previously we demonstrated that human NSCs (hNSCs) via releasing glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), preserved cognitive function in rats following parasagittal fluid percussion. However, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. In this study, we report that NSC grafts significantly reduce TBI-induced axonal injury in the fimbria and other brain regions by blocking abnormal accumulation of amyloid precursor protein (APP). A preliminary mass spectrometry proteomics study revealed the opposite effects of TBI and NSCs on many of the cytoskeletal proteins in the CA3 region of the hippocampus, including α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), the main stress fiber component. Further, Western blot and immunostaining studies confirmed that TBI significantly increased the expression of α-SMA in hippocampal neurons, whereas NSC grafts counteracted the effect of TBI. In an in vitro model, rapid stretch injury significantly shortened lengths of axons and dendrites, increased the expression of both APP and α-SMA, and induced actin aggregation, effects offset by GDNF treatment. These GDNF protective effects were reversed by a GDNF-neutralizing antibody or a specific calcineurin inhibitor, and were mimicked by a specific Rho inhibitor. In summary, we demonstrate for the first time that hNSC grafts and treatment with GDNF acutely reduce traumatic axonal injury and promote neurite outgrowth. Possible mechanisms underlying GDNF-mediated neurite protection include balancing the activity of calcineurin, whereas GDNF-induced neurite outgrowth may result from the reduction of the abnormal α-SMA expression and actin aggregation via blocking Rho signals. Our study also suggests the necessity of further exploring the roles of α-SMA in the central nervous system (CNS), which may lead to a new avenue to facilitate recovery after TBI and other injuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-312
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 20 2012


  • GDNF
  • Rho
  • TBI
  • calcineurin
  • human NSC
  • traumatic axonal injury
  • α-SMA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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