It is well known that axotomy in the neonatal period causes massive loss of motoneurons, which is reflected in the reduction of the number of motor units and the alteration in muscle properties. This type of neuronal death is attributed to the excessive activation of the ionotropic glutamate receptors (glutamate excitotoxicity). In the present study we investigated the effect of the NMDA antagonist DAP5 [D-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid] in systemic administration, on muscle properties and on behavioural aspects following peripheral nerve injury.
Wistar rats were subjected to sciatic nerve crush on the second postnatal day. Four experimental groups were included in this study: a) controls (injection of 0.9% NaCl solution) b) crush c) DAP5 treated and d) crush and DAP5 treated. Animals were examined with isometric tension recordings of the fast extensor digitorum longus and the slow soleus muscles, as well as with locomotor tests at four time points, at P14, P21, P28 and adulthood (2 months).
1. Administration of DAP5 alone provoked no apparent adverse effects. 2. In all age groups, animals with crush developed significantly less tension than the controls in both muscles and had a worse performance in locomotor tests (p < 0.01). Crush animals injected with DAP5 were definitely improved as their tension recordings and their locomotor behaviour were significantly improved compared to axotomized ones (p < 0.01). 3. The time course of soleus contraction was not altered by axotomy and the muscle remained slow-contracting in all developmental stages in all experimental groups. EDL, on the other hand, became slower after the crush (p < 0.05). DAP5 administration restored the contraction velocity, even up to the level of control animals 4. Following crush, EDL becomes fatigue resistant after P21 (p < 0.01). Soleus, on the other hand, becomes less fatigue resistant. DAP5 restored the profile in both muscles.
Our results confirm that contractile properties and locomotor behaviour of animals are severely affected by axotomy, with a differential impact on fast contracting muscles. Administration of DAP5 reverses these devastating effects, without any observable side-effects. This agent could possibly show a therapeutic potential in other models of excitotoxic injury as well.