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Keywords:

  • neuroanatomical tracing;
  • fluorescence microscopy;
  • Mini Ruby;
  • Alzheimer's disease;
  • GFAP;
  • Bandeiraea simplicifolia

Abstract

Entorhinal lesion leads to anterograde degeneration of perforant path fibers in their main termination zone in the outer molecular layers of the dentate gyrus. Concomitantly, astrocytes become hypertrophic, and microglial cells alter their phenotype, suggesting participation in anterograde degeneration. This study analyzes the involvement of these lesion-induced activated glial cells in the process of phagocytosis of degenerated axonal debris. We established a phagocytosis-dependent labeling technique that allows for direct and simultaneous visualization of both labeled incorporated axonal debris and incorporating glial cells. Stereotaxic application of small crystals of the biotin- and rhodamine-conjugated dextran amine Mini Ruby (MR) into the entorhinal cortex led to strong and stable axonal staining of perforant path axons. Following entorhinal lesion, labeled terminals and fibers condensed and formed small granules. Incorporation of these rhodamine-fluorescent granules resulted in a phagocytosis-dependent cell labeling. During the first 3 days, we were able to identify these cells as microglia by using double-fluorescence and confocal microscopy. The first unequivocally double-labeled astrocytes were found 6 days post lesion (dpl). Whereas in all stages a subpopulation of microglial cells remained devoid of MR-labeled granules, all astrocytes in the middle molecular layer were double-labeled after long survival times (20 dpl). On the ultrastructural level, labeled granules appeared to be perforant path axons containing the tracer. Both terminals and myelinated fibers could be seen inside the cytoplasm of microglial cells and astrocytes. Thus, anterograde degeneration is a sufficient stimulus to induce axon incorporation by both astrocytes and a subpopulation of microglial cells. GLIA 20:145–154, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss Inc.