Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Raymond J. Grill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David S. Loose, Ph.D.

Committee Member

M. Neal Waxham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle A. Hook, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Olivera Nesic, Ph.D.


Over 1.2 million Americans are currently living with a traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Despite the need for effective therapies, there are currently no proven effective treatments that can improve recovery of function in SCI patients. Many therapeutic compounds have shown promise in preclinical models of SCI, but all of these have fallen short in clinical trials.

P-glycoprotein (Pgp) is an active transporter expressed on capillary endothelial cell membranes at the blood-spinal cord barrier (BSCB). Pgp limits passive diffusion of blood-borne drugs into the CNS, by actively extruding drugs from the endothelial cell membrane. Pgp can become pathologically up-regulated, thus greatly impeding therapeutic drug delivery (‘multidrug resistance’). Importantly, many drugs that have been evaluated for the treatment of SCI are Pgp substrates. We hypothesized that Pgp-mediated drug resistance diminishes the delivery and efficacy of neuroprotective drugs following SCI.

We observed a progressive, spatial spread of Pgp overexpression within the injured spinal cord. To assess Pgp function, we examined spinal cord uptake of systemically-delivered riluzole, a drug that is currently being evaluated in clinical trials as an SCI intervention. Blood-to-spinal cord riluzole penetration was reduced following SCI in wild-type but not Pgp-null rats, highlighting a critical role for Pgp in mediating spinal cord drug resistance after injury. Others have shown that pro-inflammatory signaling drives Pgp up-regulation in cancer and epilepsy. We have detected inflammation in both acutely- and chronically-injured spinal cord tissue. We therefore evaluated the ability of the dual COX-/5-LOX inhibitor licofelone to attenuate Pgp-mediated drug resistance following SCI. Licofelone treatment both reduced spinal cord Pgp levels and enhanced spinal cord riluzole bioavailability following SCI. Thus, we propose that licofelone may offer a new combinatorial treatment strategy to enhance spinal cord drug delivery following SCI.

Additionally, we assessed the ability of licofelone, riluzole, or both to enhance recovery of locomotor function following SCI. We found that licofelone treatment conferred a significant improvement in hindlimb function that was sustained through the end of the study. In contrast, riluzole did not improve functional outcome. We therefore conclude that licofelone holds promise as a potential neuroprotective intervention for SCI.


spinal cord injury, P-glycoprotein, drug resistance, inflammation, riluzole, drug bioavailability, licofelone, neuroprotection, locomotor function



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