Pulmonary infection is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality after spinal cord injury (SCI). Although SCI causes atrophy and dysfunction in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues with a corresponding decrease in the number and function of circulating leukocytes, it is unknown whether this SCI-dependent systemic immune suppression also affects the unique tissue-specific antimicrobial defense mechanisms that protect the lung. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that SCI directly impairs pulmonary immunity and subsequently increases the risk for developing pneumonia. Using mouse models of severe high-level SCI, we find that recruitment of circulating leukocytes and transcriptional control of immune signaling in the lung is impaired after SCI, creating an environment that is permissive for infection. Specifically, we saw a sustained loss of pulmonary leukocytes, a loss of alveolar macrophages at chronic time points postinjury, and a decrease in immune modulatory genes, especially cytokines, needed to eliminate pulmonary infections. Importantly, this injury-dependent impairment of pulmonary antimicrobial defense is only partially overcome by boosting the recruitment of immune cells to the lung with the drug AMD3100, a Food and Drug Administration–approved drug that mobilizes leukocytes and hematopoietic stem cells from bone marrow. Collectively, these data indicate that the immune-suppressive effects of SCI extend to the lung, a unique site of mucosal immunity. Furthermore, preventing lung infection after SCI will likely require novel strategies, beyond the use of orthodox antibiotics, to reverse or block tissue-specific cellular and molecular determinants of pulmonary immune surveillance.

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