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.