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Keywords:

  • immunocytochemistry;
  • c-Jun;
  • c-Fos;
  • axotomy;
  • rubrospinal tract

Abstract

Many immediate early genes are rapidly and transiently expressed in the central nervous system following a variety of stimuli. Damage to the axons of peripheral and certain central neurons has been shown to result in a long-term increase in expression of c-Jun in the parent cell bodies. In the peripheral nervous system this increased expression of c-Jun protein and mRNA develops over 24 h following sciatic nerve section and is maintained if the damaged nerve is ligated, but returns to basal levels if the peripheral nerve is allowed to regenerate. Here, we report on the response of rubrospinal neurons to spinal cord hemisection at levels C3 and T10. c-Jun expression was first seen at 12 h post-lesion in a limited number of rubral neurons. The number of positively stained neurons increased up to 10 days post-lesion and then declined over the following weeks. By 7 weeks post-lesion there was still evidence of c-Jun immunoreactivity in both large and other clearly atrophic rubrospinal neurons. c-Fos immunoreactivity was seen only at 12–48 h in a small number of rubrospinal neurons. Evidence from retrograde tracing experiments following fluorogold application to the hemisected cord suggested that all c-Jun-positive neurons projected into the spinal cord. No c-Jun response was seen following a lesion at T10. These observations on the rubrospinal tract contrast with previous results of immediate early gene expression studies in neurons of the substantia nigra, pars compacta following axotomy with 6-hydroxydopamine, where c-Fos immunoreactivity was not seen and the increased expression of c-Jun declined to basal levels within 21 days. These results suggest that the immediate early gene response of different central neuronal pathways to damage may vary. This may have important implications for any experimental intervention designed to facilitate the repair of damaged neuronal pathways in the adult brain.