Resveratrol Protects Against Damage Caused by Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries occur most often after motor vehicle accidents, sports, falls, or violence.  There are varying levels of spinal cord injury, of which there may be more or less physical and social impairments, depending upon how badly the area was injured to start.  After the initial injury, several immunological and histological cellular events occur (i.e. inflammation, apoptosis, and cell death, etc. ) which create secondary damage, which further worsens the initial injury.

Basically, after the initial injury, there is a large immune response, which results in the death of neurons and other cells, causing overall degeneration and impaired neurological function.  More specifically, this response has been shown to be caused by a multitude of factors, including oxidative radical stress, inflammation, and neuronal apoptosis.  At the present time, there is little to no treatment for this secondary damage, which if treated would allow for significantly more recovery from the initial spinal cord injury.

Resveratrol, a phenolic compound found in wine, has been found to have many health benefits.  Studies have found it to have beneficial functions, including, but not limited to; anti-oxidation, anti-platelet agglomeration, anti-inflammation, and anti-tumor growth.  In animal models, some studies have found resveratrol to play protective roles in epilepsy, cerebral ischemia, and neuronal degeneration.  It is from these results that the authors of the study under review today, which was published earlier this year in the journal Brain Research, determined that resveratrol may play a protective role against secondary damage caused by spinal cord injury.


36 rats were randomly assigned into three treatment groups: sham (surgery with no spinal cord injury), control (surgery resulting in spinal cord injury), and resveratrol (surgery with spinal cord injury, with 200mg/kg resveratrol administered three times daily for three days after the injury).

Neuronal function was measured by two individuals unaware of the treatment types using locomotive activities of the rats, including hindlimb movements, joint movements, weight support, limb coordination, stability, stepping, paw placement, toe clearance, and tail position.  Locomotion was evaluated 24, 48, and 72 hours after the spinal cord injury.

Many other biochemical, histological, and immunochemical analyses were done to evaluate the damage of the spinal cord injury to the rats.  If you’d like more details, let me know.  Otherwise, I’ve excised this information for space consideration.


Neural Function

  •       No neuronal dysfunction occurred in the sham group.
  •       Severe neuronal dysfunction occurred in the control group.
  •       The resveratrol-treated rats showed significantly improved neuronal function than the control rats.

o   This suggests that resveratrol treatment improves neuronal function after spinal cord injury in rats.

  •       The sham group showed normal morphology and pathology of spinal cord cells and tissues, with no neuronal apoptosis present.
  •       In the control group, there was significantly more hemorrhaging and damaged cell morphology.  Significantly more necrotic/dead cells were found in the control group than in the sham group.  Overall damage was significantly higher in the control group than the sham group.
  •       Rats in the resveratrol treatment group had spinal cord cellular damage between that of the control group and the sham group.

o   These results suggest that resveratrol treatment showed a partial restoration of neuronal function, especially in the areas of cellular nutrient supply and energy synthesis.


  •       The superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity of the control group was significantly decreased after spinal cord injury, compared to the sham group (i.e. more damage caused by oxidation).
  •       Resveratrol treatment significantly rescued the SOD activity rats (i.e. less damage caused by oxidation).

o   These results suggest an anti-oxidation role of resveratrol after spinal cord injury.


  •       No inflammatory cells were present in the spinal cords of sham treatment rats.
  •        In the control group, there were significantly more inflammatory cells present in the gray and white matter of the spinal cord.
  •       For resveratrol-treated rats, the number of inflammatory cells present in the spinal cord was dramatically reduced.
  •       Inflammatory proteins were present in low levels in the sham rats.
  •        In the control group, the levels of inflammatory proteins significantly increased after spinal cord injury.
  •       Resveratrol-treated rats showed significantly less expression of inflammatory proteins, likely due to a suppression of spinal cord-induced upregulation of inflammatory proteins, though levels were still higher than the sham group.

o   These results suggest resveratrol may significantly decrease inflammatory cells in spinal cord injury-damaged tissues of rats.

Apoptosis (Cell Death)

  •       No apoptotic cells (dead/dying cells) were present in the sham group.
  •        A large number of apoptotic cells (dead/dying cells) were present in the control group.
  •       Resveratrol treatment significantly reduced the number of apoptotic cells after spinal cord injury.

o   These results suggest that resveratrol may successfully inhibit apoptosis (cell death) of spinal cord cells as a result of spinal cord injury in rats.

  •        DNA remained intact in the cells of sham rats.
  •       In the control groups, cells with DNA damage was widely present in both white and gray matter cells (mostly in white).
  •       Resveratrol treatment significantly reduced the number of cells with DNA damage.

o   These results suggest resveratrol has protective effects on neuronal apoptosis caused by spinal cord injury in rats.

For more specifics on morphological, biochemical, histological, immunological, and pathological results, feel free to ask, and I can provide more details.  All results have been summarized for easier reading (assuming most, if not all, of readers are not pathologists of any sort).


The results of the study presented today show promising results for treatment of secondary damage caused by spinal cord injury.  Since there is little known regarding successful treatments of these sorts of injuries, significant results such as these presented here are very hopeful to those struggling with these types of spinal cord injuries.  Overall, the results of the study showed that resveratrol significantly improved the damage caused by spinal cord injury, be it neuronal or pathological.

One thing to keep in mind is that this study was done in the rat model, and not with humans.  Due to the infancy of the research, human research is not possible until it can be shown to be successful in animal models.  The next likely step would be further studies in the rat, potentially followed by studies in the pig, and perhaps maybe even clinical trials in humans. 

The next question would be:  was the dose given to the rats comparable to an acceptable dose for humans?  Would it have to be in pill form?  Or could those with spinal cord injuries simply drink red wine to help reduce the damage?  How long after the injury does this protective role of resveratrol work?  Is there a point in time in which not even resveratrol can help with decreasing injury?  Based on my experience with other immunological models dealing with ischemia-reperfusion injuries, there is a window in which these types of treatments will work, and that after a certain amount of time, the protective role is lost.  Future studies should address these questions and more.

For now, the results of these studies show promise for resveratrol, a common agent in red wine, acting as a protective agent against secondary damage caused by spinal cord injury. 

I’d love to hear what you all think!  Please feel free to leave your comments below!

Source:  doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.11.061
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!