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Keywords:

  • rat visual system;
  • pupillary reflex;
  • axonal regeneration;
  • peripheral nerve grafts

Abstract

To investigate the ability of mature regenerating retinal axons to form functional connections within central targets, severed axons were guided into the primary visual centres which subserve the pupillary constriction reflex in response to light. The ocular stump of the transected optic nerve of adult rats was connected by means of an autologous peripheral nerve graft with the pretectal region which contains the relay nucleus of pupillary constriction, the olivary pretectal nucleus. This nucleus is efferently connected with preganglionic neurons in the oculomotor nuclear complex which innervates parasympathetically the muscle constrictors of the iris. Six to sixteen weeks after optic nerve transection and peripheral nerve transplantation, brisk responses were observed in the pupils upon illumination of the transplanted eye. Recovery of the pupil responses indicated that retinal neurons used the peripheral nerve ‘bridge’ to access the pretectum, in which they established synaptic contacts in sufficient density and with appropriate specificity to reconstitute the function of the traumatically interrupted neuronal circuitry.