Neurodegeneration is a complex process that leads to irreversible neuronal damage and death in spinal cord injury (SCI) and various neurodegenerative diseases, which are serious, debilitating conditions. Despite exhaustive research, the cause of neuronal damage in these degenerative disorders is not completely understood. Elevation of cell surface α-enolase activates various inflammatory pathways, including the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and some growth factors that are detrimental to neuronal cells. While α-enolase is present in all neurological tissues, it can also be converted to neuron specific enolase (NSE). NSE is a glycolytic enzyme found in neuronal and neuroendocrine tissues that may play a dual role in promoting both neuroinflammation and neuroprotection in SCI and other neurodegenerative events. Elevated NSE can promote ECM degradation, inflammatory glial cell proliferation, and actin remodeling, thereby affecting migration of activated macrophages and microglia to the injury site and promoting neuronal cell death. Thus, NSE could be a reliable, quantitative, and specific marker of neuronal injury. Depending on the injury, disease, and microenvironment, NSE may also show neurotrophic function as it controls neuronal survival, differentiation, and neurite regeneration via activation of phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase (PI3K) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways. This review discusses possible implications of NSE expression and activity in neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, and neuroprotection in SCI and various neurodegenerative diseases for prognostic and therapeutic potential.
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