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Neuroscience. 2002;112(1):23-38.

Macrophage and lymphocyte invasion of dorsal root ganglia after peripheral nerve lesions in the rat.

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Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute and the University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, Australia.


The distribution of major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC II)-positive non-neuronal cells and T-lymphocytes was examined immunohistochemically in dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) up to 12 weeks following transection of one sciatic or lumbar spinal nerve in adult rats. Unlike within the brain, MHC II immunopositive (+) and T-cells are normally present within DRGs. After nerve transection, MHC II+ cell density increased (by about four times after each lesion) in DRGs projecting into lesioned nerves. Subsequently the number declined after sciatic but not spinal nerve transection. MHC II+ cells did not contain glial markers, even when these were up-regulated after the lesions. Initially, MHC II+ cells lay outside the satellite glia but, by 11 weeks, they had moved through them to lie against the somata. T-cells invaded the lesioned DRGs earlier than the MHC II+ cells. They achieved greater numbers after spinal (30 x control) than after sciatic (12 x control) nerve transection. They also increased in undamaged ganglia adjacent to the spinal nerve injury. T-cell density progressively declined after spinal but not sciatic nerve transection. Both cell types appeared to invade the DRGs initially through blood vessels and the meninges, particularly near the subarachnoid angle. At later stages, occasional neurones had dense aggregations of T-cell receptor+ and MHC II+ cells associated with them. We conclude that the magnitude and time course of changes in MHC II expression and T-cell numbers in lesioned DRGs differ from the responses within motor nuclei after axotomy. The influx of inflammatory cells may contribute to neurone survival in the short term. Their long-term presence has implications for patients. These cells have the potential to release excitatory cytokines that may generate ectopic impulse activity in sensory neurones after nerve injury and so may play a role in the generation of chronic neuropathic pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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