NYMC Faculty Publications

Role of the Polyol Pathway in Locomotor Recovery and Wallerian Degeneration after Spinal Cord Contusion Injury

Author Type(s)


Journal Title

Neurotrauma Reports

First Page


Last Page


Document Type


Publication Date



Cell Biology and Anatomy


Spinal cord contusion injury leads to Wallerian degeneration of axonal tracts, resulting in irreversible paralysis. Contusion injury causes perfusion loss by thrombosis and vasospasm, resulting in spinal cord ischemia. In several tissues, including heart and brain, ischemia activates polyol pathway enzymes-aldose reductase (AR) and sorbitol dehydrogenase (SDH)-that convert glucose to sorbitol and fructose in reactions, causing oxidative stress and tissue loss. We sought to determine whether activation of this pathway, which has been termed glucotoxicity, contributes to tissue loss after spinal cord contusion injury. We tested individual treatments with AR inhibitors (sorbinil or ARI-809), SDH inhibitor (CP-470711), superoxide dismutase mimetic (tempol), or combined sorbinil and tempol. Each treatment significantly increased locomotor recovery and reduced loss of spinal cord tissue in a standard model of spinal cord contusion in rats. Tissue levels of sorbitol and axonal AR (AKR1B10) expression were increased after contusion injury, consistent with activation of the polyol pathway. Sorbinil treatment inhibited the above changes and also decreased axonal swelling and loss, characteristic of Wallerian degeneration. Treatment with tempol induced recovery of locomotor function that was similar in magnitude, but non-additive to sorbinil, suggesting a shared mechanism of action by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Exogenous induction of hyperglycemia further increased injury-induced axonal swelling, consistent with glucotoxicity. Unexpectedly, contusion increased spinal cord levels of glucose, the primary polyol pathway substrate. These results support roles for spinal glucose elevation and tissue glucotoxicity by the polyol pathway after spinal cord contusion injury that results in ROS-mediated axonal degeneration.