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Neuroimage. 2012 Jan 2;59(1):363-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.07.069. Epub 2011 Jul 30.

Magnetic resonance imaging of the mouse visual pathway for in vivo studies of degeneration and regeneration in the CNS.

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Leibniz-Institute for Age Research, Fritz-Lipmann-Institute (FLI), Beutenbergstrasse 11, 07745 Jena, Germany.


Traditionally, depiction of isolated CNS fiber tracts is achieved by histological post mortem studies. As a tracer-dependent strategy, the calcium analog manganese has proved valuable for in vivo imaging of CNS trajectories, particularly in rats. However, adequate protocols in mice are still rare. To take advantage of the numerous genetic mouse mutants that are available to study axonal de- and regeneration processes, a MnCl2-based protocol for high-resolution contrast-enhanced MRI (MEMRI) of the visual pathway in mice acquired on a widely used clinical 3 Tesla scanner was established. Intravitreal application of MnCl2 significantly enhanced T1-weighted contrast and signal intensity along the retino-petal projection enabling its reconstruction in a 3D mode from a maximum intensity projection (MIP) calculated dataset. In response to crush injury of the optic nerve, axonal transport of MnCl2 was diminished and completely blocked proximal and distal to the lesion site, respectively. Conditions of Wallerian degeneration after acute optic nerve injury accelerated Mn2+-enhanced signal fading in axotomized projection areas between 12 and 24 h post-injury. In long-term regeneration studies 12 months after optic nerve injury, the MRI protocol proved highly sensitive and discriminated animals with rare spontaneous axonal regrowth from non-regenerating specimens. Also, structural MRI aspects shared high correlation with histological results in identical animals. Moreover, in a model of chronic neurodegeneration in p50/NF-κB-deficient mice, MnCl2-based neuron-axonal tracing supported by heat map imaging indicated neuropathy of the visual pathway due to atrophy of optic nerve fiber projections. Toxic effects of MnCl2 at MRI contrast-relevant dosages in repetitive administration protocols were ruled out by histological and optometric examinations. At higher dosages, photoreceptors, not retinal ganglion cells, turned out as most susceptible to the well-known toxicity of MnCl2. Our data accentuate in vivo MEMRI of the murine visual system as a highly specific and sensitive strategy to uncover axonal degeneration and restoration processes, even in a functional latent state. We expect MEMRI to be promising for future applications in longitudinal studies on development, aging, or regeneration of CNS projections in mouse models mimicking human CNS pathologies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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