Inhibition of the Ca2+-Dependent K+ Channel, KCNN4/KCa3.1, Improves Tissue Protection and Locomotor Recovery after Spinal Cord Injury


Delphine Bouhy, Nader Ghasemlou, Starlee Lively, Adriana Redensek, Khizr I. Rathore, Lyanne C. Schlichter, and Samuel David


Spinal cord injury (SCI) triggers inflammatory responses that involve neutrophils, macrophages/microglia and astrocytes and molecules that potentially cause secondary tissue damage and functional impairment. Here, we assessed the contribution of the calcium-dependent K+ channel KCNN4 (KCa3.1, IK1, SK4) to secondary damage after moderate contusion lesions in the lower thoracic spinal cord of adult mice. Changes in KCNN4 mRNA levels (RT-PCR), KCa3.1 protein expression (Western blots), and cellular expression (immunofluorescence) in the mouse spinal cord were monitored between 1 and 28 d after SCI. KCNN4 mRNA and KCa3.1 protein rapidly increased after SCI; double labeling identified astrocytes as the main cellular source accounting for this upregulation. Locomotor function after SCI, evaluated for 28 d in an open-field test using the Basso Mouse Scale, was improved in a dose-dependent manner by treating mice with a selective inhibitor of KCa3.1 channels, TRAM-34 (triarylmethane-34). Improved locomotor function was accompanied by reduced tissue loss at 28 d and increased neuron and axon sparing. The rescue of tissue by TRAM-34 treatment was preceded by reduced expression of the proinflammatory mediators, tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin-1β in spinal cord tissue at 12 h after injury, and reduced expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase at 7 d after SCI. In astrocytes in vitro, TRAM-34 inhibited Ca2+ signaling in response to metabotropic purinergic receptor stimulation. These results suggest that blocking the KCa3.1 channel could be a potential therapeutic approach for treating secondary damage after spinal cord injury.