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Keywords:

  • plasticity;
  • locomotion;
  • OEG;
  • spinal cord injury;
  • 5-HT;
  • ChAT;
  • cholinergic neurons

Abstract

Spinal cord injury studies use the presence of serotonin (5-HT)-immunoreactive axons caudal to the injury site as evidence of axonal regeneration. As olfactory ensheathing glia (OEG) transplantation improves hindlimb locomotion in adult rats with complete spinal cord transection, we hypothesized that more 5-HT-positive axons would be found in the caudal stump of OEG- than media-injected rats. Previously we found 5-HT-immunolabeled axons that spanned the transection site only in OEG-injected rats but detected labeled axons just caudal to the lesion in both media- and OEG-injected rats. Now we report that many 5-HT-labeled axons are present throughout the caudal stump of both media- and OEG-injected rats. We found occasional 5-HT-positive interneurons that are one likely source of 5-HT-labeled axons. These results imply that the presence of 5-HT-labeled fibers in the caudal stump is not a reliable indicator of regeneration. We then asked if 5-HT-positive axons appose cholinergic neurons associated with motor functions: central canal cluster and partition cells (active during fictive locomotion) and somatic motor neurons (SMNs). We found more 5-HT-positive varicosities in lamina X adjacent to central canal cluster cells in lumbar and sacral segments of OEG- than media-injected rats. SMNs and partition cells are less frequently apposed. As nonsynaptic release of 5-HT is common in the spinal cord, an increase in 5-HT-positive varicosities along motor-associated cholinergic neurons may contribute to the locomotor improvement observed in OEG-injected spinal rats. Furthermore, serotonin located within the caudal stump may activate lumbosacral locomotor networks. J. Comp. Neurol. 515:664–676, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.