Neonatal Sciatic Nerve Section Results in a Rearrangement of the Central Terminals of Saphenous and Axotomized Sciatic Nerve Afferents in the Dorsal Horn of the Spinal Cord of the Adult Rat

Authors

  • Peter Shortland,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
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      Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, St Louis University Medical School, 1402 South Grand, St Louis, MO 63104, USA

  • Maria Fitzgerald

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
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Dr P. Shortland, at the present address

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that following neonatal peripheral nerve injury, adjacent intact myelinated and unmyelinated primary afferents sprout into the central denervated terminal area. The present study investigates this in more detail and goes further, to study the fate of the central terminals of the surviving axotomized primary afferent neurons. Bulk labelling of the sciatic and saphenous nerves with horseradish peroxidase conjugated to choleragenoid (B-HRP), to label the A fibres, or wheatgerm agglutinin (WGA-HRP), to label C fibres were employed to investigate the central consequences of sciatic nerve section and ligation on the day of birth, in adult rats. Bulk labelling of the axotomized sciatic or intact saphenous nerve with either tracer and comparison with contralateral controls revealed alterations to the terminal field. The intact saphenous nerve terminal field expanded caudally from mid L4 to the L4-L5 boundary when labelled with WGA-HRP and to the sacral cord when labelled with B-HRP. Labelling the axotomized sciatic nerve with either tracer revealed little change in the overall somatotopic organization of central terminals, although labelling was less intense compared to control nerves and more variable with WGA-HRP. Invasion of the substantia gelatinosa (SG) by axotomized A fibres was observed in segments L3-5, into the area occupied by axotomized C fibres. This area was also invaded by intact saphenous A fibres in the L4–5 segments. These results demonstrate that following neonatal nerve section: (i) axotomized primary afferents are able to retain a ‘normal’ somatotopic map in the rostrocaudal plane; (ii) both A and C fibres from adjacent intact nerves sprout into the denervated territory, but A fibres sprout further caudally; (iii) axotomized A fibres and invading intact A fibres both sprout dorsally into denervated SG. As a result, there is considerable overlap between nerve territories in denervated spinal cord, suggesting that competition for laminar termination sites exists between A and C fibres and also between axotomized and intact primary afferents.

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