Spinal cord injuries can abolish both motor and sensory function throughout the body. Spontaneous recovery after injury is limited and can vary substantially between individuals. Despite an abundance of therapeutic approaches that have shown promise in preclinical models, there is currently a lack of effective treatment strategies that have been translated to restore function after SCI in the human population. We hypothesized that sex and genetic background of injured individuals could impact how they respond to treatment strategies, presenting a barrier to translating therapies that are not tailored to the individual. One gene of particular interest is APOE, which has been extensively studied in the brain due to its allele-specific influences on synaptic plasticity, metabolism, inflammation, and neurodegeneration. Despite its prominence as a therapeutic target in brain injury and disease, little is known about how it influences neural plasticity and repair processes in the spinal cord. Utilizing humanized mice, we examined how the ε3 and ε4 alleles of APOE influence the efficacy of therapeutic intermittent hypoxia (IH) in inducing spinally-mediated plasticity after cervical SCI. IH is sufficient to enhance plasticity and restore motor function after experimental SCI in genetically similar rodent populations, but its effect in human subjects is more variable (Golder, 2005; Hayes et al., 2014). Our results demonstrate that both sex and APOE genotype determine the extent of respiratory motor plasticity that is elicited by IH, highlighting the importance of considering these clinically relevant variables when translating therapeutic approaches for the SCI community.

Significance Statement There is currently a critical need for therapeutics that restore motor and sensory function effectively after cervical spinal cord injury. Although many therapeutic approaches, including intermittent hypoxia, are being investigated for their potential to enhance spinal plasticity and improve motor outcomes after SCI, it is unknown whether the efficacy of these treatment strategies is influenced by individuals’ genetic background. Here we show that APOE genotype and sex both play a role in determining the propensity for motor plasticity in humanized mice after cervical SCI. These results indicate that sex and genetic background dictate how individuals respond to therapeutic approaches, thereby emphasizing the importance of developing personalized medicine for the diverse SCI population.

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Published in eNeuro.

Copyright © 2021 Strattan et al.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 1839289. This work was also supported by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation (598741), and the NIH R01(NS101105).