Spinal Cord Transection in Adult Rats: Effects of Local Infusion of Nerve Growth Factor on the Corticospinal Tract Axons

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THE SPINAL CORD of adult female rats was completely transected at the T8 level. Nerve growth factor (NGF) was administered at the lesion site via indwelling, implanted, osmotic minipumps. Purified NGF was supplied at doses of 100, 200, and 500 μg during a 30-day period. Control rats were treated with saline. At the end of the treatment, the proximal stump of corticospinal tract axons in the spinal cord was labeled with anterograde transported horseradish peroxidase (HRP) injected into the sensorimotor cortex. In control rats, the corticospinal tract axons ended abruptly, proximal to the zone of maximal damage. Sterile swellings developed at the axon tips, and no labeled axonal sprouts were apparent. On the contrary, in NGF-treated animals, the leading front of the corticospinal tract axons showed a trend of approaching the zone of maximal damage following abnormal paths through the dorsal-injured white matter. Axonal sprouts were seen more proximally, traveling toward the transection site in aberrantly located dorsal paths, completely outside the normal position of the corticospinal tract. NGF seems to partly restore the pattern of the regenerative behavior of the severed corticospinal tract axons after spinal cord transection in newborn rats, i.e., the induction of axonal sprouting in aberrantly located dorsal paths. An automated image analysis of the HRP reaction field close to the transection site demonstrated that the density of HRP-labeled axons in the corticospinal tract was significantly higher in the NGF-treated rats than in the control rats. This higher-labeling intensity might be caused by the influence of NGF on the mechanisms of HRP transport and/or to an NGF promotion of axonal sprouting from the severed corticospinal tract axons.

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