Acute inflammatory profiles differ with sex and age after spinal cord injury

Andrew N. Stewart, John L. Lowe, Ethan P. Glaser, Caitlin A. Mott, Ryan K. Shahidehpour, Katelyn E. McFarlane, William M. Bailey, Bei Zhang, John C. Gensel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background: Sex and age are emerging as influential variables that affect spinal cord injury (SCI) recovery. Despite a changing demographic towards older age at the time of SCI, the effects of sex or age on inflammation remain to be elucidated. This study determined the sex- and age-dependency of the innate immune response acutely after SCI. Methods: Male and female mice of ages 4- and 14-month-old received T9 contusion SCI and the proportion of microglia, monocyte-derived macrophages (MDM), and neutrophils surrounding the lesion were determined at 3- and 7-day post-injury (DPI) using flow cytometry. Cell counts of microglia and MDMs were obtained using immunohistochemistry to verify flow cytometry results at 3-DPI. Microglia and MDMs were separately isolated using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) at 3-day post-injury (DPI) to assess RNA expression of 27 genes associated with activation, redox, and debris metabolism/clearance. Results: Flow cytometry revealed that being female and older at the time of injury significantly increased MDMs relative to other phagocytes, specifically increasing the ratio of MDMs to microglia at 3-DPI. Cell counts using immunohistochemistry revealed that male mice have more total microglia within SCI lesions that can account for a lower MDM/microglia ratio. With NanoString analyses of 27 genes, only 1 was differentially expressed between sexes in MDMs; specifically, complement protein C1qa was increased in males. No genes were affected by age in MDMs. Only 2 genes were differentially regulated in microglia between sexes after controlling for false discovery rate, specifically CYBB (NOX2) as a reactive oxygen species (ROS)-associated marker as well as MRC1 (CD206), a gene associated with reparative phenotypes. Both genes were increased in female microglia. No microglial genes were differentially regulated between ages. Differences between microglia and MDMs were found in 26 of 27 genes analyzed, all expressed higher in MDMs with three exceptions. Specifically, C1qa, cPLA2, and CD86 were expressed higher in microglia. Conclusions: These findings indicate that inflammatory responses to SCI are sex-dependent at both the level of cellular recruitment and gene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Acute inflammation
  • Aging
  • Gender
  • Macrophage phenotype
  • Neurotrauma
  • P2y12 receptor
  • Sex as a biological variable

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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