Adaptive immunity is critical for controlling infections, which are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI). In rats and mice, compromised peripheral adaptive immune responses, as shown by splenic atrophy and lowered frequencies of peripheral lymphocytes, were shown to result from high-level thoracic SCI. However, whether cervical SCI, which is the most common level of SCI in humans, impairs adaptive immunity remains largely unknown. In the present study, we induced cervical SCI in rats at the C7/T1 level by clip compression and looked at changes in peripheral adaptive immunity at 2-, 10- and 20-weeks post-injury. Specifically, we quantified changes in the frequencies of T- and B- lymphocytes in the blood and the mandibular and deep cervical lymph nodes, which drain the cervical spinal cord. We also assessed changes in serum IgG and IgM immunoglobulin levels, as well as spleen size. We found a significant decline in circulating T- and B- cell frequencies at 10 weeks post-SCI, which returned to normal at 20 weeks after injury. We found no effect of cervical SCI on T- and B- cell frequencies in the draining lymph nodes. Moreover, cervical SCI had no effect on net spleen size, although injured rats had a higher spleen/body weight ratio than sham controls at all time points of the study. Lastly, IgG and IgM immunoglobulin declined at 2 weeks, followed by a significant increase in IgM levels at 10 weeks of injury. These data indicate that cervical SCI causes a significant imbalance in circulating lymphocytes and immunoglobulin levels at 2 and 10 weeks. As we discuss in this article, these findings are largely in line with clinical observations, and we anticipate that this study will fuel more research on the effect of adaptive immunity on SCI recovery.
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