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J Comp Neurol. 2011 Oct 1;519(14):2852-69. doi: 10.1002/cne.22661.

A reassessment of whether cortical motor neurons die following spinal cord injury.

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Reeve-Irvine Research Center, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California 92697, USA.


Over the past century, the question of whether the cells of origin of the corticospinal tract (CST) die following spinal cord injury (SCI) has been debated. A recent study reported an approximately 20% loss of retrogradely labeled cortical motoneurons following damage to their axons resulting from SCI at T9 (Hains et al. [2003] J. Comp. Neurol. 462:328-341). In follow-up studies, however, we failed to find any evidence of loss of CST axons in the medullary pyramid, which must occur if CST neurons die. Here, we seek to resolve the discrepancy by re-evaluating possible loss of CST neurons using the same techniques as Hains et al. (quantitative analysis of retrograde labeling and staining for cell death markers including TUNEL and Hoechst labeling of the nuclei). Following either dorsal funiculus lesions at thoracic level 9 (T9) or lateral hemisection at cervical level 5 (C5), our results reveal no evidence for a loss of retrogradely labeled neurons and no evidence for TUNEL staining of axotomized cortical motoneurons. These results indicate that CST cell bodies do not undergo retrograde cell death following SCI, and therefore targeting such cell death is not a valid therapeutic target.

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