We reported previously that neural progenitor cell (NPC) grafts form neural relays across sites of subacute spinal cord injury (SCI) and support functional recovery. Here, we examine whether NPC grafts after chronic delays also support recovery and whether intensive rehabilitation further enhances recovery. One month after severe bilateral cervical contusion, rats received daily intensive rehabilitation, NPC grafts, or both rehabilitation and grafts. Notably, only the combination of rehabilitation and grafting significantly improved functional recovery. Moreover, improved functional outcomes were associated with a rehabilitation-induced increase in host corticospinal axon regeneration into grafts. These findings identify a critical and synergistic role of rehabilitation and neural stem cell therapy in driving neural plasticity to support functional recovery after chronic and severe SCI.
Paul Lu, Camila M. Freria, Lori Graham, Amanda N. Tran, Ashley Villarta, Dena Yassin, J. Russell Huie, Adam R. Ferguson, Mark H. Tuszynski