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Anat Histol Embryol. 2003 Feb;32(1):12-6.

Age-related changes in rat optic nerve: morphological studies.

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Department of Cardiovascular and Respiratory Sciences, University of Rome La Sapienza, Via Alfonso Borelli 50 00161, Rome, Italy.


Age-related changes of the optic nerve were studied in 3-month-old (young), 12-month-old (adult) and 24-month-old (aged) male Sprague-Dawley rats. Cross sections of the intracranial portion of the optic nerves of animals of different age groups were stained with haematoxylin-eosin and examined under a light microscope at low and high magnification. Other sections were stained with crystal violet for demonstration of glial cells. A third group of sections were stained immunohistochemically to detect glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) which is a marker for localizing and characterizing astrocytes. All morphological results were subjected to the quantitative analysis of images and to statistical analysis to identify significant morphometrical data. Tissue protein concentrations were determined on homogenized fragments of optic nerve. Our results demonstrate the following age-related changes: (1) increase of the optic nerve sheaths (meningeal membranes); (2) increased number of astrocytes; (3) increase of areal density of GFAP immunoreactivity; (4) increased diameter and area of the optic nerve; (5) decreased number of nerve fibres; (6) decreased-size of nerve fibres and (7) decrease of the nerve fibres/meningeal membrane ratio from 3:1 to 1:1. Moreover, the protein amount does not change with age. The rat optic nerve, therefore, appears sensitive to ageing processes and can be considered as a useful model for the studies on neuronal ageing.

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