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J Comp Neurol. 1995 Aug 14;359(1):69-89.

Increase in alpha-CGRP and GAP-43 in aged motoneurons: a study of peptides, growth factors, and ChAT mRNA in the lumbar spinal cord of senescent rats with symptoms of hindlimb incapacities.

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Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Sprague-Dawley rats develop progressive motor dysfunctions during the third year of life. We use this as a model to examine possible neuronal mechanism(s) that may cause motor impairments occuring during aging. In this study we have used indirect immunofluorescence histochemistry (IF) and in situ hybridization histochemistry (ISH) to study quantitatively and qualitatively the staining pattern and mRNA expression of calcitonin gene-related peptide (alpha-CGRP), growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43), and acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF) in spinal lumbar motoneurons of young adult (2-3 months) and aged (30 months) Sprague-Dawley rats. In addition, mRNAs encoding choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), beta-CGRP, and cholecystokinin (CCK) were analyzed. All aged rats used in this study disclosed symptoms of hindlimb incapacity, ranging from mild weight-bearing insufficiency to paralysis of the hind limbs. The symptoms were confined to the musculature of the hindlimb and hip regions. Only a small number (approximately 15%) of the large motoneurons that innervate the hindlimb muscles were lost in those aged rats that had clinical symptoms of hindlimb motor incapacities. The remaining motoneurons expressed ChAT mRNA at levels similar to those of young adult rats. The vast majority of these motoneurons showed increased mRNA levels for alpha-CGRP and GAP-43. Aged motoneurons contained more CGRP like immunoreactivity (LI), but the number of immunoreactive neurons was smaller than in adult rats. GAP-43-LI could be detected in motoneurons in aged, but not in adult, rats. GAP-43-LI was always colocalized with CGRP-LI in aged motoneurons. Studies of individual aged rats revealed that the increase of GAP-43 mRNA-positive cell bodies occurred in cases with the most severe clinical symptoms, whereas the increase in alpha-CGRP was even evident in rats with mild symptoms. No alterations in content of aFGF-LI or aFGF mRNA could be detected in the aged rat, and the content of CCK and beta-CGRP mRNAs was also normal. The usefulness of this rat model for studies of neuromuscular aging and possible functional roles for GAP-43 and CGRP in plastic and regenerative processes during aging are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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