Myelin-Axon relationships in the rat phrenic nerve: Longitudinal variation and lateral asymmetry



It is known that the myelin sheath thickness-axon perimeter relationship varies between peripheral nerves. This study examines the possibility that that relationship may vary between levels along a given nerve or between corresponding levels of the right and left examples of the same nerve. The relationship is examined for large and small fibre classes at well separated upper and lower intrathoracic levels in the rat phrenic nerve. The study shows that the myelin-axon relationship differs between levels along the same nerve bundle in the same (intrathoracic) environment. Thus, for a given increase in the perimeter of large axons, sheath thickness increases significantly more at lower than at upper levels. In addition, myelin sheath thickness shows a statistically significant lateral asymmetry in favour of the left side for the large fibre class at the upper thoracic level. The setting of the myelin sheath thickness-axon perimeter relationship also differs between the large and small fibre classes at each level examined. Large fibres have proportionately thicker sheaths than small fibres and this difference is reflected in the significantly smaller g-ratio of the former. Systematic differences in the setting of the myelin sheath thickness-axon perimeter relationship between large and small fibre classes may be a widely occurring phenomenon. It may be concluded that the myelin-axon relationship varies significantly both within and between nerves and also between fibre classes. Accordingly, morphometric studies of normal or pathological nerves should take into account possible consistent longitudinal variation or lateral asymmetry in fibre parameters and myelin-axon relationships within a given nerve bundle or fibre class, in order to avoid introducing systematic bias and to minimize variance between samples. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.