Heat shock protein is a key therapeutic target for nerve repair in autoimmune peripheral neuropathy and severe peripheral nerve injury

Pallavi Asthana, Gang Zhang, Kazim A. Sheikh, Chi Him Eddie Ma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune peripheral neuropathy and a common cause of neuromuscular paralysis. Preceding infection induces the production of anti-ganglioside (GD) antibodies attacking its own peripheral nerves. In severe proximal peripheral nerve injuries that require long-distance axon regeneration, motor functional recovery is virtually nonexistent. Damaged axons fail to regrow and reinnervate target muscles. In mice, regenerating axons must reach the target muscle within 35 days (critical period) to reform functional neuromuscular junctions and regain motor function. Successful functional recovery depends on the rate of axon regeneration and debris removal (Wallerian degeneration) after nerve injury. The innate-immune response of the peripheral nervous system to nerve injury such as timing and magnitude of cytokine production is crucial for Wallerian degeneration. In the current study, forced expression of human heat shock protein (hHsp) 27 completely reversed anti-GD-induced inhibitory effects on nerve repair assessed by animal behavioral assays, electrophysiology and histology studies, and the beneficial effect was validated in a second mouse line of hHsp27. The protective effect of hHsp27 on prolonged muscle denervation was examined by performing repeated sciatic nerve crushes to delay regenerating axons from reaching distal muscle from 37 days up to 55 days. Strikingly, hHsp27 was able to extend the critical period of motor functional recovery for up to 55 days and preserve the integrity of axons and mitochondria in distal nerves. Cytokine array analysis demonstrated that a number of key cytokines which are heavily involved in the early phase of innate-immune response of Wallerian degeneration, were found to be upregulated in the sciatic nerve lysates of hHsp27 Tg mice at 1 day postinjury. However, persistent hyperinflammatory mediator changes were found after chronic denervation in sciatic nerves of littermate mice, but remained unchanged in hHsp27 Tg mice. Taken together, the current study provides insight into the development of therapeutic strategies to enhance muscle receptiveness (reinnervation) by accelerating axon regeneration and Wallerian degeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-64
Number of pages17
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date25 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Axon regeneration
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Heat shock protein 27
  • Inflammation, cytokine
  • Muscle denervation
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • Wallerian degeneration


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