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Brain Res. 2003 Feb 28;964(2):218-27.

Evidence against cholera toxin B subunit as a reliable tracer for sprouting of primary afferents following peripheral nerve injury.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, United Arab Emirates University, PO Box 17666, Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates.


In order to investigate whether cholera toxin B subunit (CTb) is transported by unmyelinated primary afferents following nerve injury, we transected the sciatic nerves of six rats, and injected the transected nerves (and in three cases also the intact contralateral nerves) with CTb, 2 weeks later. The relationship between CTb and two neuropeptides, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and neuropeptide Y (NPY), was then examined in neurons in the ipsilateral L4 and L5 dorsal root ganglia, using immunofluorescence staining and confocal microscopy. We also immunostained sections of spinal cord and caudal medulla for CTb, NPY and VIP. Following nerve section, VIP immunoreactivity was increased in laminae I-II of the spinal cord while NPY immunoreactivity was increased in laminae III-IV of the spinal cord and in the gracile nucleus. On the contralateral side, CTb labelling was detected in laminae I and III-V of the dorsal horn of the L4 and L5 spinal segments, as well as in the gracile nucleus. CTb labelling was seen in the same areas on the lesioned side, but with a dramatic increase in lamina II. No VIP or NPY immunoreactivity was observed in L4 and L5 dorsal root ganglia on the side of the intact nerve, but on the lesioned side VIP was detected in many small neurons and NPY in numerous large neurons. In agreement with the report by Tong et al. [J. Comp. Neurol. 404 (1999) 143], we found that while CTb labelling in the dorsal root ganglion on the side of the intact nerve was mainly in large neurons, on the lesioned side CTb was present in dorsal root ganglion neurons of all sizes. The main finding of the present study was that almost all of the VIP- (96%) and NPY- (98%) positive neurons in the dorsal root ganglia on the lesioned side were also CTb-labelled. After nerve injury VIP is upregulated in fine afferents that terminate in laminae I and II, and most of these probably have unmyelinated axons. Since the cell bodies of these neurons were labelled with CTb that had been injected into the transected sciatic nerve, this suggests that many of these fine afferents, which do not normally transport CTb, are capable of doing so after injury.

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