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Previous studies from our laboratory have demonstrated that in an animal model of acute cervical spinal cord injury (SCI), respiratory function can be restored by theophylline. We also have shown that respiratory recovery occurs spontaneously after prolonged postinjury survival periods when a hemidiaphragm is paralyzed by an ipsilateral upper cervical (C2) spinal cord hemisection. Theophylline mediates functional recovery by central nervous system adenosine A1 receptor antagonism; however, it is unclear whether adenosine receptors are altered after prolonged postinjury periods and whether theophylline can further enhance restored respiratory function that occurs spontaneously. To assess putative effects of systemic theophylline administration on further enhancing spontaneous respiratory muscle recovery 4 months after C2 hemisection in rats and to determine whether adenosine A1 receptor mRNA expression is altered in these animals. Electrophysiologic assessment of respiratory activity in the phrenic nerves was conducted in C2 hemisected rats 4 months after hemisection under standardized conditions. Immediately thereafter, rats were killed and the cervical spinal cords were prepared for adenosine A1 receptor mRNA expression by in situ hybridization. Spontaneous recovery of respiratory activity in the ipsilateral phrenic nerve was detected in a majority (15/20) of C2 hemisected animals and amounted to 44.06% +/- 2.38% when expressed as a percentage of activity in the homolateral phrenic nerve in noninjured animals. At the optimal dosage used in the acute studies, theophylline (15 mg/kg) did not enhance, but rather unexpectedly blocked, recovered respiratory activity in 4 out of 5 animals tested. At dosages of 5 mg/kg and 2.5 mg/kg, the drug blocked recovered respiratory activity in 3 out of 4 and 3 out of 5 animals tested, respectively. Quantitative analysis of adenosine A1 receptor mRNA expression did not reveal a significant difference between experimental animals and sham-operated animals. The blockade or attenuation of spontaneously recovered respiratory activity following theophylline administration cannot be attributed to changes in adenosine A1 receptors because there were no significant differences in adenosine A1 mRNA expression with sham-operated animals. Lack of alteration in A1 mRNA expression 4 months after cervical SCI suggests that A1 receptor plasticity is not activated by chronic injury. Obliteration of spontaneous recovery with theophylline most likely involves a separate unknown mechanism. These findings suggest that there may be a limited therapeutic window for the clinical application of theophylline in SCI patients with respiratory deficits. Theophylline may be more effective clinically in the acute phase of injury rather than in the chronic phase.


Kwaku D Nantwi, Gregory J Basura, Harry G Goshgarian. Adenosine A1 receptor mRNA expression and the effects of systemic theophylline administration on respiratory function 4 months after C2 hemisection. The journal of spinal cord medicine. 2003;26(4):364-71

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PMID: 14992338

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