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Nature. 1990 May 31;345(6274):440-1.

Ciliary neurotrophic factor prevents the degeneration of motor neurons after axotomy.

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Department of Neurochemistry, Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry, Planegg-Martinsried, FRG.


The period of natural cell death in the development of rodent motor neurons is followed by a period of sensitivity to axonal injury. In the rat this early postnatal period of vulnerability coincides with that of very low ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) levels in the sciatic nerve before CNTF increases to the high, adult levels. The developmental time course of CNTF expression, its regional tissue distribution and its cytosolic localization (as suggested by its primary structure) favour a role for CNTF as a lesion factor rather than a target-derived neurotrophic molecule like nerve growth factor. Nevertheless CNTF exhibits neurotrophic activity in vitro on different populations of embryonic neurons. To determine whether the vulnerability of motor neurons to axotomy in the early postnatal phase is due to insufficient availability of CNTF, we transected the axons of newborn rat motor neurons and demonstrated that local application of CNTF prevents the degeneration of the corresponding cell bodies.

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