Blood vessels in the central nervous system (CNS) are controlled by neuronal activity. For example, widespread vessel constriction (vessel tone) is induced by brainstem neurons that release the monoamines serotonin and noradrenaline, and local vessel dilation is induced by glutamatergic neuron activity. Here we examined how vessel tone adapts to the loss of neuron-derived monoamines after spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats. We find that, months after the imposition of SCI, the spinal cord below the site of injury is in a chronic state of hypoxia owing to paradoxical excess activity of monoamine receptors (5-HT1) on pericytes, despite the absence of monoamines. This monoamine-receptor activity causes pericytes to locally constrict capillaries, which reduces blood flow to ischemic levels. Receptor activation in the absence of monoamines results from the production of trace amines (such as tryptamine) by pericytes that ectopically express the enzyme aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC), which synthesizes trace amines directly from dietary amino acids (such as tryptophan). Inhibition of monoamine receptors or of AADC, or even an increase in inhaled oxygen, produces substantial relief from hypoxia and improves motoneuron and locomotor function after SCI.
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We thank F. Geddes and Y. Ma for technical assistance. This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 14697; D.J.B.) and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH, R01NS47567; D.J.B. and K.F.).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Li, Y., Lucas-Osma, A., Black, S. et al. Pericytes impair capillary blood flow and motor function after chronic spinal cord injury. Nat Med 23, 733–741 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nm.4331
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