After a spinal cord injury (SCI), a reliable prediction of the potential functional outcome is essential for determining the optimal treatment strategy. Despite recent advances in the field of neurological assessment, there is still no satisfactory methodology for predicting the functional outcome after SCI. We herein describe a novel method to predict the functional outcome at 12 hours after SCI using in vivo bioluminescence imaging. We produced three groups of SCI mice with different functional prognoses: 50 kdyn (mild), 70 kdyn (moderate) and 90 kdyn (severe). Only the locomotor function within 24 hours after SCI was unable to predict subsequent functional recovery. However, both the number of infiltrating neutrophils and the bioluminescence signal intensity from infiltrating blood cells were found to correlate with the severity of the injury at 12 hours after SCI. Furthermore, a strong linear relationship was observed among the number of infiltrating neutrophils, the bioluminescence signal intensity, and the severity of the injury. Our findings thus indicate that in vivo bioluminescence imaging is able to accurately predict the long-term functional outcome in the hyperacute phase of SCI, thereby providing evidence that this imaging modality could positively contribute to the future development of tailored therapeutic approaches for SCI.
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