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J Neurocytol. 2003 Nov;32(9):1165-79.

The number, size, and type of axons in rat subcortical white matter on left and right sides: a stereological, ultrastructural study.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, and the Neuroscience Center, School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, P.O. Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Abundant evidence indicates important functional differences between the two cerebral hemispheres of humans, although the cellular basis of these differences is unknown. A recent hypothesis proposes that these functional differences depend on differences between sides in the "repertoire" of axonal conduction delays for cortico-cortical axons. In morphological terms this corresponds to differences in caliber, or proportion, of myelinated versus unmyelinated axons. Several behavioural studies have indicated that cerebral asymmetry occurs in rodents, in which rigorous morphological analysis is possible. The hypothesis was therefore tested for the first time in adult male Wistar rats, using transmission electron microscopy and stereological methods. Subcortical white matter was compared between left and right sides in three regions (frontal, parietal, and occipital). The average caliber and numerical density of unmyelinated and myelinated axons was compared between sides and between regions. All data were corrected for shrinkage. No significant differences between sides were found in the average caliber of either type of axon in any region. The numerical density of either type of axon also yielded no significant differences between sides in any region. Significant differences were evident between regions in both caliber and numerical density of the two axonal types, and these quantitative data are reported. The proportion of unmyelinated axons in the lateral white matter was also higher than in previous studies of hemispheric white matter that studied the corpus callosum. The present study provides no evidence supporting the hypothesis that functional hemispheric specialization is due to differences in axonal number, caliber or type.

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