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Keywords:

  • nerve growth factor;
  • transgene;
  • colon;
  • urinary bladder;
  • p75

Abstract

Elevating levels of nerve growth factor (NGF) can have pronounced effects on the survival and maintenance of distinct populations of neurons. We have generated a line of transgenic mice in which NGF is expressed under the control of the smooth muscle α-actin promoter. These transgenic mice have augmented levels of NGF protein in the descending colon and urinary bladder, so these tissues display increased densities of NGF-sensitive sympathetic efferents and sensory afferents. Here we provide a thorough examination of sympathetic and sensory axonal densities in the descending colon and urinary bladder of NGF transgenic mice with and without the expression of the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR). In response to elevated NGF levels, sympathetic axons (immunostained for tyrosine hydroxylase) undergo robust collateral sprouting in the descending colon and urinary bladder of adult transgenic mice (i.e., those tissues having smooth muscle cells); this sprouting is not augmented in the absence of p75NTR expression. As for sensory axons (immunostained for calcitonin gene-related peptide) in the urinary bladders of transgenic mice, fibers undergo sprouting that is further increased in the absence of p75NTR expression. Sympathetic axons are also seen invading the sensory ganglia of transgenic mice; these fibers form perineuronal plexi around a subpopulation of sensory somata. Our results reveal that elevated levels of NGF in target tissues stimulate sympathetic and sensory axonal sprouting and that an absence of p75NTR by sensory afferents (but not by sympathetic efferents) leads to a further increase of terminal arborization in certain NGF-rich peripheral tissues. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:2621–2643, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.