Diffuse traumatic axonal injury in the mouse induces atrophy, c-Jun activation, and axonal outgrowth in the axotomized neuronal population.
We previously reported that pericontusional extracellular chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs) are profoundly reduced for 3 weeks after experimental traumatic brain injury, indicating a potential growth-permissive window for plasticity. Here, we investigate the extracellular environment of sprouting neurons after controlled cortical impact injury in adult rats to determine the spatial and temporal arrangement of inhibitory and growth-promoting molecules in relation to growth-associated protein 43-positive (GAP43+) neurons. Spontaneous cortical sprouting was maximal in pericontused regions at 7 and 14 days after injury but absent by 28 days. Perineuronal nets containing CSPGs were reduced at 7 days after injury in the pericontused region (p < 0.05), which was commensurate with a reduction in extracellular CSPGs. Sprouting was restricted to the perineuronal nets and CSPG-deficient regions at 7 days, indicating that the pericontused region is temporarily and spatially permissive to new growth. At this time point,GAP43+ neurons were associated with brain regions containing cells positive for polysialic acid neural cell adhesion molecule but not with fibronectin-positive cells. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor was reduced in the immediate pericontused region at 7 days. Along with prior Western blot evidence, these data suggest that a lowered intrinsic growth stimulus, together with a later return of growth-inhibitory CSPGs, may contribute to the ultimate disappearance of sprouting neurons after traumatic brain injury.