Although many factors have been implicated in the regenerative response of peripheral axons to nerve injury, the signals that prompt neurons to extend processes in peripheral nerves after axotomy are not well-understood. As shown in the first chapter, oxidized recombinant human galectin-1 (rhGAL-1/Ox), which lacks lectin activity, promotes initial axonal growth in an in vitro peripheral nerve regeneration model at low concentrations (pg/ml). At a similarly low concentration, rhGAL-1/Ox has also been shown to be effective in enhancing axonal regeneration using in vivo experiments. Moreover, the application of functional anti-rhGAL-1 antibody strongly inhibited axonal regeneration in vivo as well as in vitro. Since galectin-1 (GAL-1) is expressed in the regenerating sciatic nerves as well as in both sensory and motoneurons, these results indicate that GAL-1, which is secreted into the extracellular space, is subsequently oxidized and then may regulate initial repair after axotomy. This possibility was confirmed by Western blot analysis, which revealed that both reduced and oxidized forms of GAL-1 are present in culture media of DRG neurons and immortalized adult mouse Schwann cells (IMS32). Externalized GAL-1/Ox has been found to stimulate macrophages to secrete an axonal regeneration-promoting factor. From these results, we propose that axonal regeneration occurs in axotomized peripheral nerves as a result of cytosolic reduced GAL-1 being released from Schwann cells and injured axons, which then becomes oxidized in the extracellular space. GAL-1/Ox in the extracellutar space stimulates macrophages to secrete a factor that promotes axonal growth and Schwann cell migration, thus enhancing peripheral nerve regeneration and functional recovery. These results suggest that rhGAL-1/Ox may be a novel factor for functional restoration of injured peripheral nerves.
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