Millions of patients suffer from debilitating spinal cord injury (SCI) without effective treatments. Elevating cAMP promotes CNS neuron growth in the presence of growth-inhibiting molecules. cAMP's effects on neuron growth are partly mediated by Epac, comprising Epac1 and Epac2; the latter predominantly expresses in postnatal neural tissue. Here, we hypothesized that Epac2 activation would enhance axonal outgrowth after SCI. Using in vitro assays, we demonstrated, for the first time, that Epac2 activation using a specific soluble agonist (S-220) significantly enhanced neurite outgrowth of postnatal rat cortical neurons and markedly overcame the inhibition by chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans and mature astrocytes on neuron growth. We further investigated the novel potential of Epac2 activation in promoting axonal outgrowth by an ex vivo rat model of SCI mimicking post-SCI environment in vivo and by delivering S-220 via a self-assembling Fmoc-based hydrogel that has suitable properties for SCI repair. We demonstrated that S-220 significantly enhanced axonal outgrowth across the lesion gaps in the organotypic spinal cord slices, compared with controls. Furthermore, we elucidated, for the first time, that Epac2 activation profoundly modulated the lesion environment by reducing astrocyte/microglial activation and transforming astrocytes into elongated morphology that guided outgrowing axons. Finally, we showed that S-220, when delivered by the gel at 3 weeks after contusion SCI in male adult rats, resulted in significantly better locomotor performance for up to 4 weeks after treatment. Our data demonstrate a promising therapeutic potential of S-220 in SCI, via beneficial effects on neurons and glia after injury to facilitate axonal outgrowth.
Guijarro-Belmar, A., Viskontas, M., Wei, Y., Bo, X., Shewan, D., & Huang, W. (2019). Epac2 elevation reverses inhibition by chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans in vitro and transforms postlesion inhibitory environment to promote axonal outgrowth in an ex vivo model of spinal cord injury. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(42), 8330–8346. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.0374-19.2019