Volume 6 - Issue 2

Mini Review Biomedical Science and Research Biomedical Science and Research CC by Creative Commons, CC-BY

Repair CNS Injury by Combination of Olfactory Ensheathing Cells with Biomaterials

*Corresponding author: Professor Ying Li, Spinal Repair Unit, Department of Brain Repair and Rehabilitation UCL Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.

Received: November 8, 2019; Published: November 14, 2019

DOI: 10.34297/AJBSR.2019.06.001015


Despite advances in understanding the failure of CNS to regenerate and technological improvements in post-injury rehabilitation, there is still no effective treatment for devastating injuries to the spinal cord. Cell transplantation has demonstrated to be one of the most promising therapeutic strategies to restore neurological functions after spinal cord injury (SCI). Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are amongst the leading candidates in the field. OECs are specialized glial cells that can be obtained from either olfactory bulb or olfactory mucosa tissue. OECs are effective in anatomical repair and functional restoration in experimental injury models and in clinical application [1-12].

However, in the context of much larger human spinal cord compared to experimental animal models the number of OECs derived from biopsied olfactory tissue is insufficient to cover the typically larger damaged area. This deficiency of OEC numbers becomes even more a challenge when considering use of autologous tissue for transplantation. Use of biomaterials is one strategy to expand the transplant size by seeding OECs with a biomaterial scaffold. This form of cell-biomaterial construct would enable the small number of cells to cover a large injury area. Studies in neural regeneration have shown positive outcomes by using different biomaterials. For example, Shen et al. [12] studied the guidance of OEC growth and migration on electrospun silk fibroin scaffolds; Roloff et al. [13] used the spider silk as guiding biomaterial for human model neurons; Madigan et al. [14] used polymer scaffolds to induce axonal regeneration following spinal cord injury; Olson’s group used biodegradable polymer scaffolds to load neural stem cells and Schwann cells to support axonal regeneration in the transected spinal cord and Xie’s team showed the differentiation of embryonic stem cells seeded on electrospun nanofibers into neural lineages [12-20].

Our team has fabricated a cellular scaffold by combining cultured human bulbar OECs (hOECs) with collagen [7]. We have also explored growing rat bulbar OECs on nanofibers as a method to enable limited numbers of cells to bridge extensive injuries [19].

Olfactory Ensheathing Cells/Collagen Scaffold

We previously transplanted OECs to the injury sites with two methods – microinjection of single cell suspension and grafting cell aggregates formed with the cells’ own extracellular matrix. When using injection of cell suspension, the transplanted cells were difficult to be retained at the target site; using cell aggregates was able to retain the cells in place but required many cells to generate a well-formed aggregate [21,22]. In one of our recent studies we mixed hOECs at a specific density with collagen distributing the cells evenly throughout the gel to form a contiguous meshwork (Figure 1B). Compared to our previous OEC transplantation method using the cell aggregate, the size of the transplant created in this way increases by at least eight times. The hOEC-collagen scaffold could be trimmed into desired shapes, for example small strips, (Figure 1A) and easily transplanted into the injury areas where they remained in place affixed with fibrin glue. We transplanted the hOECs-collagen scaffold in an experimental model of a unilateral transection of four dorsal roots (C6–T1). Cyclosporine was administered daily to prevent immune rejection. Forelimb proprioception was assessed weekly in a vertical climb task. Results showed that half of the rats receiving the transplants gained functional improvement.

Biomedical Science & Research

Figure 1A: A collagen gel containing cultured human olfactory bulb OECs are cut into strips before transplantation.

Figure 1B: An example of a collagen gel mixed with cultured rat bulb OECs. The cells are distributed evenly in the collagen. The OECs are three weeks in culture, immunostained with anti-p75 antibody (green, for OECs) and anti-fibronectin (red, for olfactory nerve fibroblasts). C. Error on a vertical climbing task. The rats that received hOEC transplants showed some recovery (grey circles); the rats did not (black squares) and the injury alone (open triangles). Error bars: mean – standard error of the mean. One-way analysis of variance F (20,126) = 88.763, p < 0.05 (*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001 post hoc Bonferroni). Scale bar in A, 10mm

Olfactory Ensheathing Cells/Nanofibers

Biomedical Science & Research

Figure 2A:Confocal image showing meshwork of nanocomposite electrospun PLGA nanofibers.

Figure 2B: Cultured rat OECs grow on the nanofibers. Double immunostaining of p75 (green, for OECs) and fibronectin (red, for olfactory nerve fibroblasts). The OECs elongate along the direction of the nanofibers and form a contiguous cellular meshwork. Confocal image; scale bar: 200μm.

Studies have shown that nanotechnology has made it possible to fabricate biodegradable structures at a controlled submicron scale, as mentioned in the introduction. Our team has published data of growing OECs on a nanofiber scaffold created by electrospinning of poly lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA, an FDA approved biodegradable material). We examined the compatibility of rat OECs growing on different diameters of such fibers. We showed that the OECs survived well on the nanofibers. When these fibers are pre-aligned (Figure 2A) the OECs seeded on them showed a tendency to lie in the same orientation of the fibers extending their processes along the direction of the fibers bi-directionally and forming a unidirectional meshwork (Figure 2B). We are in progress of testing this cellular construct in our experimental models. The OEC-nanofiber construct is fragile to handle. Our co-workers are designing devices for this construct to be easily handled for future clinical application.


Combination of OECs with biomaterials such as collagen increases the transplant size significantly without affecting the neural repair capacity of OECs. This improves the prospect of transplantation of OECs to bridge a larger surface area of injured spinal cord such as those seeing in human contusion injuries. Elongation of OECs guided nanofibers providing directional pathways may be more efficient in promoting regeneration of nerve fibers in spinal cord injury.


The work was supported by funds from the UK Stem Cell Foundation and the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. We thank Dr Wojciech Fortuna for his collaboration.


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