Cystine-glutamate antiporter deletion accelerates motor recovery and improves histological outcomes following spinal cord injury in mice
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xCT is the specific subunit of System xc-, an antiporter importing cystine while releasing glutamate. Although xCT expression has been found in the spinal cord, its expression and role after spinal cord injury (SCI) remain unknown. The aim of this study was to characterize the role of xCT on functional and histological outcomes following SCI induced in wild-type (xCT+/+) and in xCT-deficient mice (xCT-/-). In the normal mouse spinal cord, slc7a11/xCT mRNA was detected in meningeal fibroblasts, vascular mural cells, astrocytes, motor neurons and to a lesser extent in microglia. slc7a11/xCT gene and protein were upregulated within two weeks post-SCI. xCT-/- mice recovered muscular grip strength as well as pre-SCI weight faster than xCT+/+ mice. Histology of xCT-/- spinal cords revealed significantly more spared motor neurons and a higher number of quiescent microglia. In xCT-/- mice, inflammatory polarization shifted towards higher mRNA expression of ym1 and igf1 (anti-inflammatory) while lower levels of nox2 and tnf-a (pro-inflammatory). Although astrocyte polarization did not differ, we quantified an increased expression of lcn2 mRNA. Our results show that slc7a11/xCT is overexpressed early following SCI and is detrimental to motor neuron survival. xCT deletion modulates intraspinal glial activation by shifting towards an anti-inflammatory profile.