The journey toward a cure for spinal cord injury (SCI) has taken many paths. In this article, we review these paths, and highlight the clinical applications of these experimental repair strategies. Initial strategies involved attempts at neuroprotection with steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Other anti-ischemia treatments, agents to eliminate the damage from excitotoxicity, and anti-apoptotic agents were also tried. Another avenue involved enhancing the function of the remaining uninjured axons by measures to produce remyelination and medications to improve axonal conduction. In the last two decades there has been a major effort to enhance spinal cord axonal regeneration through a variety of techniques including neutralization of neurite inhibition, administration of neurotrophic factors, implantation of synthetic channels, and transplantation of a variety of cell types. Indeed, several of these strategies have been so promising in animals that clinicians have been stimulated to explore their potential human application. We also examine the different experimental models of SCI used to assess repair, and discuss how the injury model impacts on the assessment of axonal regeneration and functional recovery after SCI. The mechanisms of recovery that may be involved after SCI will be analyzed, and their relevance toward finding a cure for human SCI. Unfortunately, the goal of producing significant functional regeneration of the human spinal cord has not yet been achieved despite the many strategies that have been developed. It is our hope that improved understanding of the mechanisms underlying functional recovery will lead to successful therapeutic strategies in humans.
Keywords: repair, spinal cord injury, neuroprotection, regeneration, transplantation, synthetic channels, neurotrophic factors, mechanisms of recovery
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