Several laboratories have described the existence of undifferentiated precursor cells that may act like stem cells in the ependyma of the rodent spinal cord. However, there are reports showing that this region is occluded and disassembled in humans after the second decade of life, although this has been largely ignored or interpreted as a post-mortem artefact. To gain insight into the patency, actual structure, and molecular properties of the adult human spinal cord ependymal region, we followed three approaches: (i) with MRI, we estimated the central canal patency in 59 control subjects, 99 patients with traumatic spinal cord injury, and 26 patients with non-traumatic spinal cord injuries. We observed that the central canal is absent from the vast majority of individuals beyond the age of 18 years, gender-independently, throughout the entire length of the spinal cord, both in healthy controls and after injury; (ii) with histology and immunohistochemistry, we describe morphological properties of the non-lesioned ependymal region, which showed the presence of perivascular pseudorosettes, a common feature of ependymoma; and (iii) with laser capture microdissection, followed by TaqMan® low density arrays, we studied the gene expression profile of the ependymal region and found that it is mainly enriched in genes compatible with a low grade or quiescent ependymoma (53 genes); this region is enriched only in 14 genes related to neurogenic niches. In summary, we demonstrate here that the central canal is mainly absent in the adult human spinal cord and is replaced by a structure morphologically and molecularly different from that described for rodents and other primates. The presented data suggest that the ependymal region is more likely to be reminiscent of a low-grade ependymoma. Therefore, a direct translation to adult human patients of an eventual therapeutic potential of this region based on animal models should be approached with caution.
Useful keywords (using NLM MeSH Indexing)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Spinal Cord Injuries/pathology
Spinal Cord Neoplasms/pathology*
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