Pioglitazone treatment following spinal cord injury maintains acute mitochondrial integrity and increases chronic tissue sparing and functional recovery
Pioglitazone is an FDA-approved PPAR-γ agonist drug used to treat diabetes, and it has demonstrated neuroprotective effects in multiple models of central nervous system (CNS) injury. Acute treatment after spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats is reported to suppress neuroinflammation, rescue injured tissues, and improve locomotor recovery. In the current study, we additionally assessed the protective efficacy of pioglitazone treatment on acute mitochondrial respiration, as well as functional and anatomical recovery after contusion SCI in adult male C57BL/6 mice. Mice received either vehicle or pioglitazone (10 mg/kg) at either 15 min or 3 h after injury (75 kdyn at T9) followed by a booster at 24 h post-injury. At 25 h, mitochondria were isolated from spinal cord segments centered on the injury epicenters and assessed for their respiratory capacity. Results showed significantly compromised mitochondrial respiration 25 h following SCI, but pioglitazone treatment that was initiated either at 15 min or 3 h post-injury significantly maintained mitochondrial respiration rates near sham levels. A second cohort of injured mice received pioglitazone at 15 min post injury, then once a day for 5 days post-injury to assess locomotor recovery and tissue sparing over 4 weeks. Compared to vehicle, pioglitazone treatment resulted in significantly greater recovery of hind-limb function over time, as determined by serial locomotor BMS assessments and both terminal BMS subscores and gridwalk performance. Such improvements correlated with significantly increased grey and white matter tissue sparing, although pioglitazone treatment did not abrogate long-term injury-induced inflammatory microglia/macrophage responses. In sum, pioglitazone significantly increased functional neuroprotection that was associated with remarkable maintenance of acute mitochondrial bioenergetics after traumatic SCI. This sets the stage for dose-response and delayed administration studies to maximize pioglitazone's efficacy for SCI while elucidating the precise role that mitochondria play in governing its neuroprotection; the ultimate goal to develop novel therapeutics that specifically target mitochondrial dysfunction.