, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 161-183

Expression of regeneration-related molecules in injured and regenerating striatal and nigral neurons

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Peripheral nerve grafts in the neostriatum promote axonal regeneration from restricted classes of CNS neuron, principally cells in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and striatal cholinergic interneurons. We have examined the molecular responses of CNS neurons induced to regenerate axons by tibial nerve grafting to the neostriatum of adult rats. Brain sections were probed for mRNAs for the transcription factor c-jun, and the cell recognition molecule CHL1, or immunoreacted for TrkA or p75, 1 day to 29 weeks after grafting (dpo; wpo). In unoperated rats, scattered neurons throughout the neostriatum showed weak signals for CHL1 mRNA and slightly stronger signals for c-jun mRNA. Cells of similar appearance strongly expressed TrkA but possessed little p75. By 1 dpo, many neostriatal neurons of various sizes and GFAP + glial cells near the host/graft interface had upregulated CHL1 mRNA, c-jun mRNA and p75. Most of the larger (20–25 μm diameter) CHL1 mRNA+ cells were also TrkA+, indicating that they were NGF-sensitive cholinergic interneurons. From two weeks postgrafting, high levels of CHL1 and c-jun mRNAs and p75 in the neostriatum were confined to a few presumptive cholinergic interneurons; p75+ cells were also TrkA+ and were larger than TrkA+ neurons on the contralateral side. Retrograde labelling showed that most p75+ and some TrkA+ neurons regenerated axons through the graft. Neurons in the SNpc showed a moderate to strong signal for CHL1 mRNA, weaker signal for c-jun mRNA, and no p75 or TrkA. Some SNpc cells upregulated c-jun mRNA after graft implantation, although they did not upregulate CHL1 mRNA, p75 or TrkA. Since neostriatal neurons which regenerate axons into grafts express receptors for NGF, and grafts mimic the effects of NGF treatment on these cells, sensitivity to graft-derived NGF may be a determinant of their high regenerative capacity. The finding that c-jun and CHL1 are consistently expressed by CNS neurons induced to regenerate their axons strongly supports the idea that these molecules are directly involved in axonal regeneration.