Axotomized Spinal Commissural Interneurons of the Adult Feline: A study of axonal growth from dendrites and cut axons
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Acquiring knowledge of the morphological, molecular, and functional changes that occur to neurons following axotomy is a key step for a comprehensive understanding of the nervous system and how it reacts to injury. Propriospinal commissural interneurons (PCIs or CINs) are a class of neuron with axons that project through the ventral commissure to the contralateral spinal cord. My goal was to examine the morphological, molecular, and functional changes that occur to adult feline PCIs following a proximal axotomy. We first determined whether proximally axotomized PCIs develop de novo axons from their dendrites. C3 PCIs were proximally axotomized and several weeks later we stained PCIs and prepared the tissue for histological evaluation. Two primary classes of axotomized PCI were identified: those with a very short axon (called permanently axotomized) and those with an axon that projected across the injury site. Permanently axotomized PCIs had processes with morphological features typical of axons that emerged from their distal dendrites. These axonal processes of the distal dendrites also had GAP-43 (an axonal marker) and lacked MAP2a/b (a dendritic marker). We concluded that permanently axotomized PCIs develop de novo axons from distal dendrites. We then determined whether the axons that crossed the lesion site were representative of spontaneous functional regeneration. First, we showed that PCI axons regenerate through an environment that is typically highly inhibitory to regenerating axons. Second, we established that the regenerated axons conduct action potentials. Finally, we found that regenerated PCI axons form functional synaptic connections with neurons in the contralateral spinal cord. Collectively, these data indicated that spinal interneurons are capable of spontaneous functional regeneration through an injured spinal cord. PCI growth cones are complex and unlike growth cones previously described in the literature. The final study of the thesis examines the morphologies of PCI growth cones within spinal cord injury sites. We found that PCI growth cones have a wide range of morphologies that is independent of their location within the lesion site. Taken together, these data indicate that PCIs have a remarkable capacity for axonal elongation and contribute to remodelling of spinal circuitry following spinal injury.