Toll-like receptor 9 antagonism modulates astrocyte function and preserves proximal axons following spinal cord injury

Lun Li, Li Ni, Eliseo A. Eugenin, Robert F. Heary, Stella Elkabes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence indicates that innate immune receptors play important, yet controversial, roles in traumatic central nervous system (CNS) injury. Despite many advances, the contributions of toll-like receptors (TLRs) to spinal cord injury (SCI) remain inadequately defined. We previously reported that a toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) antagonist, oligodeoxynucleotide 2088 (ODN 2088), administered intrathecally, improves the functional and histopathological outcomes of SCI. However, the molecular and cellular changes that occur at the injury epicenter following ODN 2088 treatment are not completely understood. Following traumatic SCI, a glial scar, consisting primarily of proliferating reactive astrocytes, forms at the injury epicenter and assumes both beneficial and detrimental roles. Increased production of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) by reactive astrocytes inhibits the regeneration of injured axons. Astrocytes express TLR9, which can be activated by endogenous ligands released by damaged cells. It is not yet known how TLR9 antagonism modifies astrocyte function at the glial scar and how this affects axonal preservation or re-growth following SCI. The present studies were undertaken to address these issues. We report that in female mice sustaining a severe mid-thoracic (T8) contusion injury, the number of proliferating astrocytes in regions rostral and caudal to the lesion border increased significantly by 30- and 24-fold, respectively, compared to uninjured controls. Intrathecal ODN 2088 treatment significantly reduced the number of proliferating astrocytes by 60% in both regions. This effect appeared to be, at least partly, mediated through the direct actions of ODN 2088 on astrocytes, since the antagonist decreased proliferation in pure SC astrocyte cultures by preventing the activation of the Erk/MAPK signaling pathway. In addition, CSPG immunoreactivity at the lesion border was more pronounced in vehicle-treated injured mice compared to uninjured controls and was significantly reduced following administration of ODN 2088 to injured mice. Moreover, ODN 2088 significantly decreased astrocyte migration in an in vitro scratch-wound assay. Anterograde tracing and quantification of corticospinal tract (CST) axons in injured mice, indicated that ODN 2088 preserves proximal axons. Taken together, these findings suggest that ODN 2088 modifies the glial scar and creates a milieu that fosters axonal protection at the injury site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)328-343
Number of pages16
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Axonal dieback
  • Gliosis
  • Innate immune receptors
  • Neuroprotection
  • Regeneration
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Toll-like receptor 9 antagonism modulates astrocyte function and preserves proximal axons following spinal cord injury'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this