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J Neurosci Res. 1997 Dec 1;50(5):798-808.

Apoptosis of microglia and oligodendrocytes after spinal cord contusion in rats.

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Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA.


Following spinal cord contusion in the rat, apoptosis has been observed in the white matter for long distances remote from the center of the lesion and is primarily associated with degenerating fiber tracts. We have previously reported that many of the apoptotic cells are oligodendrocytes. Here we show that the oligodendrocyte death is maximal at 8 days postinjury and suggest that loss of oligodendrocytes may result in demyelination of axons that have survived the initial trauma. There are two mechanisms that may account for the observed oligodendrocyte apoptosis. The apoptotic cell death may result from the loss of trophic support after axonal degeneration or it may be the consequence of microglial activation. The hypothesis that oligodendrocyte apoptosis is secondary to microglial activation is supported by our observations of microglia with an activated morphology in the same regions as apoptosis and apparent contact between some of the apoptotic oligodendrocytes and microglial processes. In addition to oligodendrocyte apoptosis, a subpopulation of microglia appears to be susceptible to apoptotic cell death as well, as evidenced by the presence of apoptotic bodies in OX42 immunopositive profiles. Thus, the population of apoptotic cells following spinal cord contusion is comprised of oligodendrocytes and putative phagocytic microglia or macrophages. Given the delayed time course of oligodendrocyte death, the apoptotic death of oligodendrocytes may be amenable to pharmacological intervention with subsequent improvement in functional recovery.

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