Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2008;26(2-3):197-214.

Don't fence me in: harnessing the beneficial roles of astrocytes for spinal cord repair.

White RE, Jakeman LB.

Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.

Astrocytes comprise a heterogeneous cell population that plays a complex role in repair after spinal cord injury. Reactive astrocytes are major contributors to the glial scar that is a physical and chemical barrier to axonal regeneration. Yet, consistent with a supportive role in development, astrocytes secrete neurotrophic factors and protect neurons and glia spared by the injury. In development and after injury, local cues are modulators of astrocyte phenotype and function. When multipotent cells are transplanted into the injured spinal cord, they differentiate into astrocytes and other glial cells as opposed to neurons, which is commonly viewed as a challenge to be overcome in developing stem cell technology. However, several examples show that astrocytes provide support and guidance for axonal growth and aid in improving functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Notably, transplantation of astrocytes of a developmentally immature phenotype promotes tissue sparing and axonal regeneration. Furthermore, interventions that enhance endogenous astrocyte migration or reinvasion of the injury site result in greater axonal growth. These studies demonstrate that astrocytes are dynamic, diverse cells that have the capacity to promote axon growth after injury. The ability of astrocytes to be supportive of recovery should be exploited in devising regenerative strategies.