Softening of the Chronic Hemi-Section Spinal Cord Injury Scar Parallels Dysregulation of Cellular and Extracellular Matrix Content

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials


© 2020 Elsevier Ltd Regeneration following spinal cord injury (SCI) is challenging in part due to the modified tissue composition and organization of the resulting glial and fibrotic scar regions. Inhibitory cell types and biochemical cues present in the scar have received attention as therapeutic targets to promote regeneration. However, altered Young's modulus of the scar as a readout for potential impeding factors for regeneration are not as well-defined, especially in vivo. Although the decreased Young's modulus of surrounding tissue at acute stages post-injury is known, the causation and outcomes at chronic time points remain largely understudied and controversial, which motivates this work. This study assessed the glial and fibrotic scar tissue's Young's modulus and composition (scar morphometry, cell identity, extracellular matrix (ECM) makeup) that contribute to the tissue's stiffness. The spatial Young's modulus of a chronic (~18-wks, post-injury) hemi-section, including the glial and fibrotic regions, were significantly less than naïve tissue (~200 Pa; p < 0.0001). The chronic scar contained cystic cavities dispersed in areas of dense nuclei packing. Abundant CNS cell types such as astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and neurons were dysregulated in the scar, while epithelial markers such as vimentin were upregulated. The key ECM components in the CNS, namely sulfated proteoglycans (sPGs), were significantly downregulated following injury with concomitant upregulation of unsulfated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and hyaluronic acid (HA), likely altering the foundational ECM network that contributes to tissue stiffness. Our results reveal the Young's modulus of the chronic SCI scar as well as quantification of contributing elastic components that can provide a foundation for future study into their role in tissue repair and regeneration.