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Anat Rec. 2001 Oct 1;264(2):183-202.

The spatiotemporal relationship among Schwann cells, axons and postsynaptic acetylcholine receptor regions during muscle reinnervation in aged rats.

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Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


To morphologically define the aging-related features during muscle reinnervation the spatiotemporal relationships among the major components of the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) were investigated. A total of 64 rats, 30 adults (4 months old) and 34 aged adults (24 months old), were used. Between 1 and 12 weeks after sciatic nerve-crushing injury, cryosections of skeletal muscle were single or double labeled for S100, a marker of Schwann cells (SCs), for protein gene product 9.5, a neuronal marker, and for alpha-bungarotoxin (alpha-BT), a marker of the acetylcholine receptor site (AChR site), and then observed by confocal laser microscopy. The most obvious age changes were noted: (1) the regenerating SCs and axons were delayed in their arrival at the NMJ, (2) the dimensions of terminal SCs and AChR sites displayed a drastic and long-lasting drop (for terminal SCs, during 1-8 weeks; for AChR sites, during 1-12 weeks); (3) the degree of spatial overlap between AChR sites and terminal SCs was markedly low until 8 weeks post-crush; (4) damage and poor formation in the SCs, terminal axons and AChR sites, together with poor process extension from the terminal SC or terminal axon, were pronounced; (5) persistent aberrant changes, such as multiple innervation and terminal axon sprouting, together with poorly formed collateral innervation, nerve bundles, and NMJs, more frequently occurred in the later reinnervation period. Thus, with aging, regeneration is impaired during the period in which regenerating SC strands and axons extend into NMJs and the subsequent establishment of nerve-muscle contact is in progress. A complex set of morphological abnormalities between or among the TSCs, terminal axons, and AChR sites may be important in slowing of regeneration and reinnervation in aged motor endplates.

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