A Critical Period for Axon Regrowth Through a Lesion in the Developing Mammalian Retina


Correspondence to: Dr R. E. MacLaren


Although the central nervous system of mature mammals is incapable of regeneration, certain elements present in the developing system must permit and promote the growth of new axons to their initial targets. We investigate whether the environment of a developing visual system is capable of supporting regeneration in the Brazilian opossum Monodelphis domestica, in which the retinofugal system develops postnatally. Retinae were lesioned up to the 16th postnatal day and analysed for regeneration after a further 7–10 days. Anterograde tracing with Dil showed axons to have regrown from the axotomized area of retina directly through the lesion. Retrograde tracing with horseradish peroxidase injected into the superior colliculus confirmed that axons from the lesioned area of retina had grown to an appropriate position in the midbrain. The proportion of retinae in which axonal continuity was restored across the lesion decreased as the visual system matured, falling to zero after the 12th postnatal day. Thus a critical period exists in the postnatal opossum in which a retinal lesion permits axon passage. Correlating these results to the known pattern of retinofugal pathway development provides an insight into factors that may restrict this critical period to the 12th postnatal day, and suggests that at least some of the axotomized neurons are regenerating.