Publication Date



Journal of Neuroinflammation



Medical advances have made it increasingly possible for spinal cord injury (SCI) survivors to survive decades after the insult. But how SCI affects aging changes and aging impacts the injury process have received limited attention. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are recognized as critical mediators of neuroinflammation after CNS injury, including at a distance from the lesion site. We have previously shown that SCI in young male mice leads to robust changes in plasma EV count and microRNA (miR) content. Here, our goal was to investigate the impact of biological sex and aging on EVs and brain after SCI.


Young adult age-matched male and female C57BL/6 mice were subjected to SCI. At 19 months post-injury, total plasma EVs were isolated by ultracentrifugation and characterized by nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA). EVs miR cargo was examined using the Fireplex® assay. The transcriptional changes in the brain were assessed by a NanoString nCounter Neuropathology panel and validated by Western blot (WB) and flow cytometry (FC). A battery of behavioral tests was performed for assessment of neurological function.


Transcriptomic changes showed a high number of changes between sham and those with SCI. Sex-specific changes were found in transcription networks related to disease association, activated microglia, and vesicle trafficking. FC showed higher microglia and myeloid counts in the injured tissue of SCI/Female compared to their male counterparts, along with higher microglial production of ROS in both injured site and the brain. In the latter, increased levels of TNF and mitochondrial membrane potential were seen in microglia from SCI/Female. WB and NTA revealed that EV markers are elevated in the plasma of SCI/Male. Particle concentration in the cortex increased after injury, with SCI/Female showing higher counts than SCI/Male. EVs cargo analysis revealed changes in miR content related to injury and sex. Behavioral testing confirmed impairment of cognition and depression at chronic time points after SCI in both sexes, without significant differences between males and females.


Our study is the first to show sexually dimorphic changes in brain after very long-term SCI and supports a potential sex-dependent EV-mediated mechanism that contributes to SCI-induced brain changes.


Chronic spinal cord injury, Extracellular vesicles, Biological sex, Brain transcriptional changes, microRNAs, EVs content, Neuroinflammation

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