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Pathway sampling by regenerating peripheral axons.
The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland 21287, USA.
The Journal of comparative neurology 2005;485(3):183-90.
A century ago, Ramon y Cajal described the generalized response of regenerating peripheral axons to their environment. By using mice that express fluorescent proteins in their axons, we are now able to quantify the response of individual axons to nerve transection and repair. Sciatic nerves from nonexpressing mice were grafted into those expressing a yellow variant of green fluorescent protein, then examined at 5, 7, or 10 days after repair. Regeneration was found to be a staggered process, with only 25% of axons crossing the repair in the first week. In the setting of Wallerian degeneration, this stagger will expose growth cones to an evolving menu of molecular cues upon which to base pathway decisions. Many axons arborize, allowing them to interact simultaneously with several pathways. Arborization could serve as the anatomical substrate for specificity generation through collateral pruning. Axons often travel laterally across the face of the distal stump before choosing a pathway. As a result, the average unbranched axon has access to over 100 distal Schwann cell tubes. This extensive access, however, does not ensure correct matching of axon and end organ, suggesting that pathway choice is made on the basis of factors other than end organ identity. These observations explain the failure of refined surgical techniques to restore normal function after nerve injury. The apparent wandering of axons across the repair defies surgical control and mandates a biological approach to reuniting severed axons with appropriate distal pathways.
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