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Keywords:

  • enteric nervous system;
  • neuro-degeneration;
  • neuro-regeneration;
  • neuronal plasticity;
  • ultrastructure;
  • neuronal stem cells

Abstract

Recent reports suggest a far greater plasticity in nerve tissue than previously believed. As the digestive tract is exposed to a variety of insults, this question is relevant to enteric nerves, but little is known about their ability to recover from damage. To address this problem, we ablated the myenteric plexus of the mouse colon with the detergent benzalkonium chloride (BAC) and followed the ensuing morphologic changes for up to 60 days by using light- and electron microscopy. We found that, 2 days after BAC application, the treated area was essentially devoid of intact nerve elements. From day 7, new nerve fibers were observed within the denervated region. This growth progressed until, at days 30–60, newly grown nerve fibers were present in most of this region, and the pattern of muscle innervation was similar to the normal one. At least part of these fibers originated at neurons within intact ganglia surrounding the denervated region. The cross-sectional area of neurons near the denervated region at day 14 was 52% greater than controls. Glial cells were closely associated with the regenerating nerve fibers. From day 14 onward, we observed undifferentiated cells and differentiating neurons in ganglia surrounding the denervated region, and by day 30, new neurons were present in the myenteric region, along with regenerating nerve fibers. We conclude that the myenteric plexus is endowed with a considerable ability of regeneration and plasticity. The results provide evidence for the presence of stem cells and for an adult neurogenesis in this plexus. J. Comp. Neurol. 462:315–327, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.