Microglia/astrocyte and B cell neuroimmune responses are major contributors to the neurological deficits after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) activation mechanistically links these neuroimmune mechanisms. Our objective is to use Ibrutinib, an FDA-approved BTK inhibitor, to inhibit the neuroimmune cascade thereby improving locomotor recovery after SCI. Rat models of contusive SCI, Western blot, immunofluorescence staining imaging, flow cytometry analysis, histological staining, and behavioral assessment were used to evaluate BTK activity, neuroimmune cascades, and functional outcomes. Both BTK expression and phosphorylation were increased at the lesion site at 2, 7, 14, and 28 days after SCI. Ibrutinib treatment (6 mg/kg/day, IP, starting 3 h post-injury for 7 or 14 days) reduced BTK activation and total BTK levels, attenuated the injury-induced elevations in Iba1, GFAP, CD138, and IgG at 7 or 14 days post-injury without reduction in CD45RA B cells, improved locomotor function (BBB scores), and resulted in a significant reduction in lesion volume and significant improvement in tissue-sparing 11 weeks post-injury. These results indicate that Ibrutinib exhibits neuroprotective effects by blocking excessive neuroimmune responses through BTK-mediated microglia/astroglial activation and B cell/antibody response in rat models of SCI. These data identify BTK as a potential therapeutic target for SCI.

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Published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, v. 23, issue 1, 355.

© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This research was funded by the Neilsen Foundation [J.W.G., C.G.Y.] and the Kentucky Spinal Cord and Head Injury Research Trust (KSCHIRT) # 11-19A [C.G.Y., J.W.G.].