Regeneration of Functional Neurons After Spinal Cord Injury via in situ NeuroD1-Mediated Astrocyte-to-Neuron Conversion

Brendan Puls, Yan Ding, Fengyu Zhang, Mengjie Pan, Zhuofan Lei, Zifei Pei, Mei Jiang, Yuting Bai, Cody Forsyth, Morgan Metzger, Tanvi Rana, Lei Zhang, Xiaoyun Ding, Matthew Keefe, Alice Cai, Austin Redilla, Michael Lai, Kevin He, Hedong Li, Gong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) often leads to impaired motor and sensory functions, partially because the injury-induced neuronal loss cannot be easily replenished through endogenous mechanisms. In vivo neuronal reprogramming has emerged as a novel technology to regenerate neurons from endogenous glial cells by forced expression of neurogenic transcription factors. We have previously demonstrated successful astrocyte-to-neuron conversion in mouse brains with injury or Alzheimer's disease by overexpressing a single neural transcription factor NeuroD1. Here we demonstrate regeneration of spinal cord neurons from reactive astrocytes after SCI through AAV NeuroD1-based gene therapy. We find that NeuroD1 converts reactive astrocytes into neurons in the dorsal horn of stab-injured spinal cord with high efficiency (~95%). Interestingly, NeuroD1-converted neurons in the dorsal horn mostly acquire glutamatergic neuronal subtype, expressing spinal cord-specific markers such as Tlx3 but not brain-specific markers such as Tbr1, suggesting that the astrocytic lineage and local microenvironment affect the cell fate after conversion. Electrophysiological recordings show that the NeuroD1-converted neurons can functionally mature and integrate into local spinal cord circuitry by displaying repetitive action potentials and spontaneous synaptic responses. We further show that NeuroD1-mediated neuronal conversion can occur in the contusive SCI model with a long delay after injury, allowing future studies to further evaluate this in vivo reprogramming technology for functional recovery after SCI. In conclusion, this study may suggest a paradigm shift from classical axonal regeneration to neuronal regeneration for spinal cord repair, using in vivo astrocyte-to-neuron conversion technology to regenerate functional new neurons in the gray matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number591883
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - Dec 16 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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