• dorsal root ganglia;
  • intraspinal plasticity;
  • mouse;
  • neurotrophins;
  • p75NTR;
  • rhizotomy


Axonal plasticity in the adult spinal cord is governed by intrinsic neuronal growth potential and by extracellular cues. The p75 receptor (p75NTR) binds growth-promoting neurotrophins (NTs) as well as the common receptor for growth-inhibiting myelin-derived proteins (the Nogo receptor) and so is well situated to gauge the balance of positive and negative influences on axonal plasticity. Using transgenic mice lacking the extracellular NT-binding domain of p75NTR (p75–/– mice), we have examined the influence of p75NTR on changes in the density of primary afferent (calcitonin gene-related peptide-expressing) and descending monoaminergic (serotonin- and tyrosine hydroxylase-expressing) projections to the dorsal horn after dorsal rhizotomy, with and without concomitant application of exogenous nerve growth factor and NT-3. We found that, in intact p75–/– mice, the axon density of all populations was equal to or less than that in wild-type mice but that rhizotomy-induced intraspinal sprouting was significantly augmented. Monoaminergic axon sprouting was enhanced in both nerve growth factor- and NT-3-treated p75–/– mice compared with similarly treated wild-type mice. Primary afferent sprouting was particularly robust in NT-3-treated p75–/– mice. These in vivo results illustrate the interactions of p75NTR with NTs, with their respective tropomyosin-related kinase receptors and with inhibitory myelin-derived molecules. Our findings illustrate the pivotal role of p75NTR in spinal axonal plasticity and identify it as a potential therapeutic target for spinal cord injury.