Int J Biol Sci 2019; 15(2):277-286. doi:10.7150/ijbs.30348 This issue

Research Paper

Icariin Inhibits Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress-induced Neuronal Apoptosis after Spinal Cord Injury through Modulating the PI3K/AKT Signaling Pathway

Haotian Li1,2*, Xinran Zhang3*, Xi Qi1,2*, Xu Zhu1,2, Liming Cheng1,2✉

1. Department of Spine Surgery, Tongji Hospital, Tongji University School of Medicine, Shanghai 200065, China.
2. Key Laboratory of spine and spinal cord injury repair and regeneration (Tongji University), Ministry of Education, Shanghai, China
3. School & Hospital of Stomatology, Tongji University, Shanghai Engineering Research Center of Tooth Restoration and Regeneration, Shanghai 200072, China.
* These authors have equal contribution and are designated as co-first authors.

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Li H, Zhang X, Qi X, Zhu X, Cheng L. Icariin Inhibits Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress-induced Neuronal Apoptosis after Spinal Cord Injury through Modulating the PI3K/AKT Signaling Pathway. Int J Biol Sci 2019; 15(2):277-286. doi:10.7150/ijbs.30348. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-induced neuronal apoptosis is a crucial pathological process of spinal cord injury (SCI). In our previous study, icariin (ICA) showed neuroprotective effects in SCI. However, the relationships between ER stress and ICA in SCI are unclear yet. Therefore, whether ICA could ameliorate SCI via attenuating ER stress was investigated in vitro and in vivo. Adult mice were established SCI model and received vehicle solution or ICA by gavage once per day in vivo. The primary cultured cells were treated with or without thapsigargin (TG), ICA or LY294002 to induce ER stress in vitro. Motor dysfunction, neuronal apoptosis, tissue damage and inhibition of PI3K/AKT pathway were induced by ER stress after SCI. But ICA administration significantly enhanced motor recovery and protected spinal cord tissues against infraction and hemorrhage, etc. post injury. Meanwhile, the expression of ER stress markers ATF6, IRE1α, GRP78, XBP1 and eIF2α was decreased, while the level of p-AKT/AKT was increased by ICA. Furthermore, ICA significantly inhibited the expression of ER stress apoptotic proteins caspase-12, CHOP, Bax/Bcl-2, caspase-9 and caspase-3. Moreover, immunofluorescence double staining indicated that ICA reduced GRP78, CHOP and TUNEL positive neurons following SCI. However, this beneficial effect of ICA was abolished by PI3K/AKT inhibitor LY294002 in vitro. Finally, ICA preserved the ultra-structure of ER by transmission electron microscope histologically. This study suggested that the neuroprotective effect of ICA on motor recovery and neuronal survival was related to attenuating ER stress via PI3K/AKT signaling pathway after SCI.

Keywords: icariin, endoplasmic reticulum stress, spinal cord injury, neuroprotection, PI3K/AKT