Embryonic stem (ES) cells have been investigated in various animal models of neurodegenerative disease; however, few studies have examined the ability of ES cells to improve functional outcome following traumatic brain injury (TBI). The purpose of the present study was to examine the ability of pre-differentiated murine ES cells (neuronal and glial precursors) to improve functional outcome. Rats were prepared with a unilateral controlled cortical impact injury or sham and then transplanted 7 days later with 100K ES cells (WW6G) (~30% neurons) or media. Two days following transplantation rats were tested on a battery of behavioral tests. It was found that transplantation of ES cells improved behavioral outcome by reducing the initial magnitude of the deficit on the bilateral tactile removal and locomotor placing tests. ES cells also induced almost complete recovery on the vibrissae --> forelimb placing test, whereas, media-transplanted rats failed to show recovery. Acquisition of a reference memory task in the Morris water maze was not improved by transplantation of ES cells. Histological analysis revealed a large number of surviving ES cells in the lesion cavity and showed migration of ES cells into subcortical structures. It was found that transplantation of ES cells prevented the occurrence of multiple small necrotic cavities that were seen in the cortex adjacent to the lesion cavity in media transplanted rats. Additionally, ES cells transplants also significantly reduced lesion size. Results of this study suggest that ES cells that have been pre-differentiated into neuronal precursors prior to transplantation have therapeutic potential.
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