Spinal Motor Circuit Synaptic Plasticity after Peripheral Nerve Injury Depends on Microglia Activation and a CCR2 Mechanism

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Peripheral nerve injury results in persistent motor deficits, even after the nerve regenerates and muscles are reinnervated. This lack of functional recovery is partly explained by brain and spinal cord circuit alterations triggered by the injury, but the mechanisms are generally unknown. One example ofthis plasticityisthe die-backinthe spinal cord ventral horn ofthe projections of proprioceptive axons mediating the stretch reflex (Ia afferents). Consequently, Ia information about muscle length and dynamics is lost from ventral spinal circuits, degrading motor performance after nerve regeneration. Simultaneously, there is activation of microglia around the central projections of peripherally injured Ia afferents, suggesting a possible causal relationship between neuroinflammation and Ia axon removal. Therefore, we used mice (both sexes) that allow visualization of microglia (CX3CR1-GFP) and infiltrating peripheral myeloid cells (CCR2-RFP) and related changes in these cells to Ia synaptic losses (identified by VGLUT1 content) on retrogradely labeled motoneurons. Microgliosis around axotomized motoneurons starts and peaks within 2 weeks after nervetransection. Thereafter,this region becomes infiltrated by CCR2 cells, and VGLUT1 synapses are lost in parallel. Immunohistochemistry,flow cytometry, and genetic lineage tracing showed that infiltrating CCR2 cells include T cells, dendritic cells, and monocytes, the latter differentiating into tissue macrophages. VGLUT1 synapses were rescued after attenuating the ventral microglial reaction by removal of colony stimulating factor 1 from motoneurons or in CCR2 global KOs. Thus, both activation of ventral microglia and a CCR2-dependent mechanism are necessary for removal of VGLUT1 synapses and alterations in Ia-circuit function following nerve injuries.



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