Spinal cord injury is a major cause of long-term disability and has no current clinically accepted treatment. Leptin, an adipocyte-derived hormone, is best known as a regulator of food intake and energy expenditure. Interestingly, several studies have demonstrated that leptin has significant effects on proliferation and cell survival in different neuropathologies. Here, we sought to evaluate the role of leptin after spinal cord injury.
Based on its proposed neuroprotective role, we have evaluated the effects of a single, acute intraparenchymal injection of leptin in a clinically relevant animal model of spinal cord injury. As determined by quantitative Real Time-PCR, endogenous leptin and the long isoform of the leptin receptor genes show time-dependent variations in their expression in the healthy and injured adult spinal cord. Immunohistochemical analysis of post-injury tissue showed the long isoform of the leptin receptor expression in oligodendrocytes and, to a lesser extent, in astrocytes, microglia/macrophages and neurons. Moreover, leptin administered after spinal cord injury increased the expression of neuroprotective genes, reduced caspase-3 activity and decreased the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules. In addition, histological analysis performed at the completion of the study showed that leptin treatment reduced microglial reactivity and increased caudal myelin preservation, but it did not modulate astroglial reactivity. Consequently, leptin improved the recovery of sensory and locomotor functioning.
Our data suggest that leptin has a prominent neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory role in spinal cord damage and highlights leptin as a promising therapeutic agent.