Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in spinal cord injury: a literature review of recent studies
Kanellopoulos, Vasiliki Vivian
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Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a physically and mentally devastating condition for which there is no curative treatment. It involves primary trauma from the impact and secondary damage in the form of biochemical cascades that threaten the integrity of functional tissue. Therapeutic interventions can only prevent secondary damages, given the irreversibility of the primary laceration. Experimental therapies for SCI can aim to promote neuronal growth and/or regeneration, promote neuroplasticity in surviving neurons and networks, and enhance neuroprotection, or the survival of spared neurons. Surgical decompression and hypothermia are neuroprotective strategies that usually precede rehabilitational strategies in SCI. Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) treatment constitutes another promising therapy that can increase the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood, and therefore, the amount delivered to tissues. Both pre-clinical and clinical studies have illustrated that HBO therapy can enhance motor recovery and exert neurological improvements after SCI. A plethora of pre-clinical studies have elucidated several aspects of its function in SCI; HBO seems to suppress apoptosis, edema, and inflammation, as well as mitigate oxidizing conditions. It can also promote angiogenesis, enhance nerve conduction, and inhibit neural degeneration. The limited number of clinical studies and the heterogeneity of protocols allow for fewer conclusions on the roles of HBO in human SCI: motor benefits are hinted in several clinical trials, while neuroprotective effects include increases in blood oxygen, and suppression of inflammatory responses. However, the number and variety of pre-clinical studies suggest that HBO can exert additional neuroprotective benefits in human SCI, which remain to be explored in the future.