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Keywords:

  • axonal regeneration;
  • long-term gliosis;
  • reptile;
  • retino-tectal system

Abstract

We analysed the astroglia response that is concurrent with spontaneous axonal regrowth after optic nerve (ON) transection in the lizard Gallotia galloti. At different post-lesional time points (0.5, 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months) we used conventional electron microscopy and specific markers for astrocytes [glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), vimentin (Vim), sex-determining region Y-box-9 (Sox9), paired box-2 (Pax2)¸ cluster differentiation-44 (CD44)] and for proliferating cells (PCNA). The experimental retina showed a limited glial response since the increase of gliofilaments was not significant when compared with controls, and proliferating cells were undetectable. Conversely, PCNA+ cells populated the regenerating ON, optic tract (OTr) and ventricular wall of both the hypothalamus and optic tectum (OT). Subpopulations of these PCNA+ cells were identified as GFAP+ and Vim+ reactive astrocytes and radial glia. Reactive astrocytes up-regulated Vim at 1 month post-lesion, and both Vim and GFAP at 12 months post-lesion in the ON-OTr, indicating long-term astrogliosis. They also expressed Pax2, Sox9 and CD44 in the ON, and Sox9 in the OTr. Concomitantly, persistent tissue cavities and disorganised regrowing fibre bundles reaching the OT were observed. Our ultrastructural data confirm abundant gliofilaments in reactive astrocytes joined by desmosomes. Remarkably, they also accumulated myelin debris and lipid droplets until late stages, indicating their participation in myelin removal. These data suggest that persistent mammalian-like astrogliosis in the adult lizard ON contributes to a permissive structural scaffold for long-term axonal regeneration and provides a useful model to study the molecular mechanisms involved in these beneficial neuron–glia interactions.