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J Comp Neurol. 1989 Mar 15;281(3):447-66.

Regeneration of axons from the adult rat optic nerve: influence of fetal brain grafts, laminin, and artificial basement membrane.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of Kiel, Kiel, Federal Republic of Germany.


After transection of the optic nerve of adult rats, most of the axons in the proximal stump die and the surviving ones are unable to regenerate into the distal optic nerve. Since the fetal brain has an inherent capacity to regenerate axons, we investigated whether fetal (E16) target regions of optic axons (thalamus and tectum) transplanted to the completely transected optic nerve of adult rats would promote axon regeneration. In control operated rats, axon growth beyond the site of transection was restricted to a few fibers that grew irregularly within the connective tissue scar. By contrast, in grafted animals directed outgrowth of optic axons toward the transplant started at 6 days postoperation (p.o.) and reached its maximum 15 days p.o. and later, when numerous single optic fibers and small axon fascicles had grown toward and into the graft, where they formed arborizations and terminal varicosities. Regenerating optic axons were further advanced than GFAP-positive strands of astroglia that emanated from the proximal optic nerve stump. Laminin immunoreactivity appeared at 6 days p.o. in the zone of reactive astroglia in the terminal part of the optic nerve stump. Later it showed a distribution complementary to the pattern of GFAP immunoreactivity, which it seemd to circumscribe. There was no unequivocal codistribution of laminin immunoreactivity with regenerating axons. In further experiments, target regions from different ontogenetic stages (E14 to neonate and adult) and nontarget regions (E16, cerebral cortex or spinal cord) were grafted to the optic nerve stump. With the exception of the adult grafts, all transplants had effects on axon regeneration comparable to those of E16 target regions. In order to test the effects of extracellular matrix molecules on axon regeneration, a basement membrane gel reconstituted from individual components of the Engelbreth-Holm-Sarcoma (EHS) sarcoma was implanted between proximal and distal optic nerve stumps. No axons were induced to regenerate by this matrix. Likewise, laminin adsorbed to nitrocellulose paper and implanted at the lesion site did not stimulate axon growth from the proximal optic nerve stump. These results indicate that fetal brain is able to induce and direct regrowth of axons from the optic nerve toward the graft across a substrate that is not composed of astroglia or basement membrane components like laminin. The directed growth of axons in the absence of a preformed substrate implies a chemotactic growth response along a concentration gradient mediated by neurotropic molecules released from the graft.

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