Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are proteolytic enzymes that are involved in both injury and repair mechanisms in the CNS. Pharmacological blockade of MMPs, limited to the first several days after spinal cord injury, improves locomotor recovery. This beneficial response is, however, lost when treatment is extended beyond the acutely injured cord to include wound healing and tissue remodeling. This suggests that some MMPs play a beneficial role in wound healing. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the role of MMP-2, which is actively expressed during wound healing, in white matter sparing and axonal plasticity, the formation of a glial scar, and locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury. MMP-2 increased between 7 and 14 d after injury, where it was immunolocalized in reactive astrocytes bordering the lesion epicenter. There was reduced white matter sparing and fewer serotonergic fibers, caudal to the lesion in injured MMP-2 null animals. MMP-2 deficiency also resulted in increased immunoreactivity to chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans and a more extensive astrocytic scar. Most importantly, locomotion in an open field, performance on a rotarod, and grid walking were significantly impaired in injured MMP-2 null mice. Our findings suggest that MMP-2 promotes functional recovery after injury by regulating the formation of a glial scar and white matter sparing and/or axonal plasticity. Thus, strategies exploiting MMPs as therapeutic targets must balance these beneficial effects during wound healing with their adverse interactions in the acutely injured spinal cord.
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