This study was designed to investigate functional recovery after the transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) or neurally differentiated MSCs (NMSCs) derived from bone marrow in a rat model of spinal cord injury (SCI). Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to incomplete SCI using an NYU impactor to create a free drop contusion at the T9 level. The SCI rats were then classified into three groups; MSCs, NMSCs, and phosphate-buffered saline (PBS)-treated groups. The cells or PBS were administrated 1 week after SCI. Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan (BBB) locomotor rating scores were measured at 1-week intervals for 9 weeks. Somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs) and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were also recorded 8 weeks after transplantation. While transplantation of MSCs led to a clear tendency of motor recovery, NMSC-treated rats had significantly improved BBB scores and showed significantly shortened initial latency, N1 latency, and P1 latency of the SSEPs compared to PBS controls. In addition, 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU)-prelabeled MSCs costained for BrdU and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) or myelin basic protein (MBP) were found rostrally and caudally 5 mm each from the epicenter of the necrotic cavity 4 weeks after transplantation. These results suggest that neurally differentiated cells might be an effective therapeutic source for functional recovery after SCI.
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