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Characterization Of Neuronal Death And Functional Deficits Following Nerve Injury During The Early Postnatal Developmental Period In Rats

Stephen W.P. Kemp, Cameron D. Chiang, Edward H. Liu, Matthew D. Wood, Michael P. Willand, Tessa Gordon, Gregory H. Borschel

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In contrast to adult rat nerve injury models, neonatal sciatic nerve crush leads to massive motor and sensory neuron death. Death of these neurons results from both the loss of functional contact between the nerve terminals and their targets, and the inability of immature Schwann cells in the distal stump of the injured nerve to sustain regeneration. However, current dogma holds that little to no motoneuron death occurs in response to nerve crush at postnatal day 5 (P5). The purpose of the current study was to fully characterize the extent of motor and sensory neuronal death and functional recovery following sciatic nerve crush at mid-thigh level in rats at postnatal days 3-30 (P3-P30), and then compare this to adult injured animals. Following nerve crush at P3, motoneuron numbers were reduced to 35% of that of naïve uninjured animals. Animals in the P5 and P7 group also displayed statistically fewer motoneurons than naïve animals. Animals that were injured at P30 or earlier displayed statistically lower sensory neuron counts in the dorsal root ganglion than naïve controls. Surprisingly, complete behavioral recovery was observed exclusively in the P30 and adult injured groups. Similar results were observed in muscle twitch/tetanic force analysis, motor unit number estimation and wet muscle weights. Rats in both the P5 and P7 injury groups displayed significant neuronal death and impaired functional recovery following injury, challenging current dogma and suggesting that severe deficits persist following nerve injury during this early postnatal developmental period. These findings have important implications concerning the timing of neonatal nerve injury in rats.