, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 381-392

Glial cells in transected optic nerves of immature rats. II. An immunohistochemical study

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The glial response to Wallerian degeneration was studied in optic nerves 21 days after unilateral enucleation (PED21) of immature rats, 21 days old (P21), using immunohistochemical labelling. Nerves from normal P21 and P42 nerves were also studied for comparison. At PED21, there was a virtual loss of axons apart from a few solitary fibres of unknown origin. The nerve comprised a homogeneous glial scar tissue formed by dense astrocyte processes, oriented parallel to the long axis of the nerve along the tracks of degenerated axons. Astrocytes were almost perfectly co-labelled by antibodies to glial fibrillary acid protein and vimentin in both normal and transected nerves. However, there was a small population of VIM+GFAP cells in normal P21 and P42 nerves, and we discuss the possibility that they correspond to O-2A progenitor cells describedin vitro. Significantly, double immunofluorescence labelling in transected nerves revealed a distinct population of hypertrophic astrocytes which were GFAP+VIM. These cells represented a novel morphological and antigenic subtype of reactive astrocyte. It was also noted that the number of oligodendrocytes in transected nerves did not appear to be less than in normal nerves, on the basis of double immunofluorescence staining for carbonic anhydrase II, myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein, myelin basic protein, glial fibrillary acid protein and ED-1 (for macrophages), although it was not excluded that a small proportion may have been microglia. A further prominent feature of transected nerves was that they contained a substantial amount of myelin debris, notwithstanding that OX-42 and ED1 immunostaining showed that there were abundant microglia and macrophages, sufficient for the rapid and almost complete removal of axonal debris. In conclusion, glial cells in the immature P21 rat optic nerve reacted to Wallerian degeneration in a way equivalent to the adult CNS, i.e. astrocytes underwent pronounced reactive changes and formed a dense glial scar, oligodendrocytes persisted and were not dependent on axons for their continued survival, and there was ineffective phagocytosis of myelin possibly due to incomplete activation of microglia/macrophages.