Region-specific glial hyperplasia and neuronal stability of rat lateral geniculate nucleus during aging

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The normal aging process is accompanied by functional declines in image-forming and non-image forming visual systems. Among the components of these systems, the thalamic lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) offers a good model for aging studies since its three anatomical subdivisions, namely dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN), intergeniculate leaflet (IGL) and ventral lateral geniculate nucleus (vLGN), receives light information from retina and projects to different brain areas involved in visual-related functions. Nevertheless, there is very little data available about quantitative morphological aspects in LGN across lifespan. In this study, we used design-based stereology to estimate the number of neurons, glial cells, the glia/neuron ratio and the volume of the LGN of Wistar rats from 3, 13 or 23 months of age. We examined each LGN subdivision processed by immunohistochemistry for NeuN and Nissl counterstain. We observed no significant age-related neuronal loss in any nuclei and a 21% and 33% significant increase in dLGN and IGL glial cells of 23 month-old rats. We also observed the glia/neuron relation increases in dLGN of 13 month-old rats and in dLGN, IGL and vLGN internal portion of 23 month-old ones. Moreover, we report an age-related increase in IGL volume. These results show region-specific glial hyperplasia during aging within LGN nuclei, perhaps due to compensatory responses to inflammation. In addition, we observed the glia/neuron ratio as a more sensitive parameter to quantify age-related alterations. Hence, we provide an updated and expanded quantitative characterization of these visual-related thalamic nuclei and its variability across lifespan.

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