Ascending sensory, but not other long-tract axons, regenerate into the connective tissue matrix that forms at the site of a spinal cord injury in mice

Denise M. Inman, Oswald Steward

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78 Scopus citations


Mice exhibit a unique wound healing response following spinal cord injury in which the lesion site fills in with a connective tissue matrix. Previous studies have revealed that axons grow into this matrix, but the source of the axons remained unknown. The present study assesses whether any of these axons were the result of long tract regeneration. C57Bl/6 mice received crush injuries and were allowed to survive for 6 weeks to 7 months. Biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) was injected into the somato-motor cortex to trace descending corticospinal tract (CST) axons, into the midbrain to label descending brainstem pathways including the rubrospinal and reticulospinal tracts, or into the L5 dorsal root ganglion to trace ascending projections of first-order sensory neurons. Spinal cords from other mice were prepared for immunocytochemistry using antibodies against neurofilament protein (NF), 5-HT to reveal descending serotonergic axons, calcitonin gene-related protein (CGRP) to reveal ascending sensory axons, and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) to assess the distribution of molecules that are inhibitory to axon growth. NF immunostaining revealed axons in the connective tissue matrix at the lesion site, confirming previous studies that used protargol staining. CST axons did not enter the connective tissue matrix, but did sprout extensively in segments adjacent to the injury site. Rubrospinal and reticulospinal tract axons also did not grow into the lesion site. 5-HT-positive axons extended to the edge of the lesion, and a few axons followed astrocyte processes into the margins of the lesion site. In contrast to the other pathways, BDA-labeled ascending sensory axons did extend into and arborized extensively within the connective tissue matrix, although the subgroup of ascending axons that are positive for CGRP did not. These results indicate that the connective tissue matrix is permissive for regeneration of some classes of ascending sensory axons but not for other axonal systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-449
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 5 Jul 2003


  • Ascending sensory pathways
  • Corticospinal tract
  • Mice
  • Regeneration
  • Reticulospinal tract
  • Rubrospinal tract
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sprouting
  • Wound healing


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