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Exp Neurol. 1991 Oct;114(1):82-103.

Sensory neurons of the rat sciatic nerve.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, College of Medicine, UCI, Irvine 92717.


Experiments have been undertaken in this laboratory over recent years to accurately determine the numbers and sizes of somatic neurons which contribute to the normal sciatic nerve, at mid-thigh levels, of the adult, albino rat. This article is concerned with the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neuron population of the sciatic nerve whose cell bodies were identified through retrograde labeling of cut branches of the sciatic with horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and/or its wheat germ conjugate (WGA-HRP). It is essential to understand the neuronal composition of the normal rat sciatic nerve if the consequences of aging, nerve injury, and surgical repair to improve functional regeneration are to be properly evaluated. Neuron counts were determined from camera-lucida paper drawings of all labeled profiles in DRGs L3-L6 at 100 x magnification. The profiles, obtained by labeling individual branches of the sciatic nerve (sural, lateral sural, tibial, peroneal, medial, and lateral gastrocnemius/soleus nerves) were traced from 40-microns-thick, serial, frozen sections. The sizes of the perikarya, areas and diameters, were determined by tracing the perimeters of the drawn profiles on a digitizing tablet. The tablet's output was inputted directly into a specially designed computer spreadsheet which contained a mathematical table for correcting the split-cell error inherent to the sectioning process. Afferents from any given branch of the sciatic normally occupied two to three adjacent ganglia. Sciatic DRG neurons were normally located in lumbar ganglia L3-L6. Nearly 98-99% of all sciatic DRG perikarya resided in the L4 and L5 DRGs. The L6 DRG, traditionally regarded as an important contributor to the rat sciatic, contained merely 0.4% of its afferent neurons while the L3 ganglion, frequently overlooked as a contributor, contained 1.2% of the mid-thigh sciatic afferents. The mean size of rat DRG neurons was about 29 microns (550-600 microns2). The corrected counts revealed that the normal sciatic nerve (at mid-thigh levels), in rats between 2 and 12 months of age, contained a mean, total DRG neuron population of about 10,500 neurons. This is probably an underestimate by 3-5% of the true number due to occasional unreliable labeling of some of the small DRG neurons. It is estimated that the normal, mean number of sciatic DRG neurons of young to middle-aged rats lies somewhere between 10,500 and 11,000 +/- 2000. The data suggest that nearly 20% of all DRG neurons in the sciatic nerve supply muscle afferents. The vast majority of the remaining neurons are involved with innervation of the skin.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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