Over several decades, biomaterial scientists have developed materials to spur axonal regeneration and limit secondary injury and tested these materials within preclinical animal models. Rarely, though, are astrocytes examined comprehensively when biomaterials are placed into the injury site. Astrocytes support neuronal function in the central nervous system. Following an injury, astrocytes undergo reactive gliosis and create a glial scar. The astrocytic glial scar forms a dense barrier which restricts the extension of regenerating axons through the injury site. However, there are several beneficial effects of the glial scar, including helping to reform the blood-brain barrier, limiting the extent of secondary injury, and supporting the health of regenerating axons near the injury site. This review provides a brief introduction to the role of astrocytes in the spinal cord, discusses astrocyte phenotypic changes that occur following injury, and highlights studies that explored astrocyte changes in response to biomaterials tested within in vitro or in vivo environments. Overall, we suggest that in order to improve biomaterial designs for spinal cord injury applications, investigators should more thoroughly consider the astrocyte response to such designs.
Cells Tissues Organs. 205 (5-6): 372-395 (2018).