Neglected for years, astrocytes are now recognized to fulfill and support many, if not all, homeostatic functions of the healthy CNS. During neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal cord injury (SCI), astrocytes in the vicinity of degenerating areas undergo both morphological and functional changes that might compromise their intrinsic properties. Evidence from human and animal studies show that deficient astrocyte functions or loss-of-astrocytes largely contribute to increased susceptibility to cell death for neurons, oligodendrocytes and axons during ALS and SCI disease progression. Despite exciting advances in experimental CNS repair, most of current approaches that are translated into clinical trials focus on the replacement or support of spinal neurons through stem cell transplantation, while none focus on the specific replacement of astroglial populations. Knowing the important functions carried out by astrocytes in the CNS, astrocyte replacement-based therapies might be a promising approach to alleviate overall astrocyte dysfunction, deliver neurotrophic support to degenerating spinal tissue and stimulate endogenous CNS repair abilities. Enclosed in this review, we gathered experimental evidence that argue in favor of astrocyte transplantation during ALS and SCI. Based on their intrinsic properties and according to the cell type transplanted, astrocyte precursors or stem cell-derived astrocytes promote axonal growth, support mechanisms and cells involved in myelination, are able to modulate the host immune response, deliver neurotrophic factors and provide protective molecules against oxidative or excitotoxic insults, amongst many possible benefits. Embryonic or adult stem cells can even be genetically engineered in order to deliver missing gene products and therefore maximize the chance of neuroprotection and functional recovery. However, before broad clinical translation, further preclinical data on safety, reliability and therapeutic efficiency should be collected. Although several technical challenges need to be overcome, we discuss the major hurdles that have already been met or solved by targeting the astrocyte population in experimental ALS and SCI models and we discuss avenues for future directions based on latest molecular findings regarding astrocyte biology.
|Journal||World Journal of Stem Cells|
|Publication status||Published - 2015|