Target-dependence of sensory neurons

an ultrastructural comparison of axotomised dorsal root ganglion neurons with allowed or denied reinnervation of peripheral targets

I. P. Johnson*, T. A. Sears

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence is emerging for a role of rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) in the form of stress granules, the unfolded protein response and protein bodies in the response of neurons to injury and in neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we have studied the role of the peripheral target in regulating the RER and polyribosomes of Nissl bodies in axotomised adult cat dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons where axonal regeneration and peripheral target reinnervation was either allowed or denied. Retrograde labelling with horseradish peroxidise was used as an independent marker to enable selection of only those DRG neuronal cell bodies with axons in the injured intercostal nerves. Indications of polyribosomal dispersal were seen by 6. h following axotomy, and by 24. h the normal orderly arrangement of lamellae of RER in Nissl bodies had become disorganised. These ultrastructural changes preceded light microscopical chromatolysis by 1-3. d. The retrograde response was maximal 8-32. d after axotomy. Clusters of debris-laden satellite cells/macrophages were present at this time but no ultrastructural evidence of neuronal apoptosis or necrosis was seen and there were no differences in the initial retrograde response according to the type of injury. By 64. d following axotomy with reinnervation, approximately half the labelled DRG neurons showed restoration of the orderly arrangement of RER and polyribosomes in their Nissl bodies. This was not seen after axotomy with reinnervation denied. We propose that the target-dependent changes in Nissl body ultrastructure described here are part of a continuum that can modify neuronal protein synthesis directed towards growth, maintenance or death of the neuron. This represents a possible structural basis for mediating the varied effects of neurotrophic interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-178
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Axotomy
  • Dorsal root ganglion
  • Nissl body
  • Peripheral target
  • Ultrastructure

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