Axonal transection in adult rat brain induces transsynaptic apoptosis and persistent atrophy of target neurons

Stephen D. Ginsberg, Lee J. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used the fimbria-fornix (FF) transection model of axonal injury to test the hypothesis that transneuronal degeneration occurs in the adult central nervous system in response to deafferentation. The medial mammillary nucleus, pars medialis (MMNm) was analyzed by light and electron microscopy at 3, 7, 14, and 30 days, and 6 months after unilateral FF transection in adult rat to identify the time course of neuronal responses in a remote target. Presynaptic terminals and neuronal cell bodies degenerated in the MMNm ipsilateral to FF transection. Terminal degeneration occurred predominantly at 3 and 7 days postlesion. Between 14 and 30 days postlesion, neuronal number in the MMNm decreased (∼20%). Two forms of neuronal degeneration were found in the MMNm after deafferentation. Some neurons died apoptotically. Other neurons underwent vacuolar degeneration. In these latter neurons, somatodendritic pathology occurred at 14 and 30 days and 6 months postlesion. The ultrastructure of this vacuolar degeneration was characterized by disorganization of the cytoplasm, formation of membrane-bound vacuolar cisternae and membranous inclusions, loss of organelles, cytoplasmic pallor, and chromatin alterations. This study shows that both anterograde axonal degeneration and transneuronal degeneration occur in a fornical target after FF axon transection. This transneuronal degeneration can be classified as sustained neuronal atrophy or transsynaptic apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-109
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • Afferent-derived trophic support
  • Apoptosis
  • Axotomy
  • Deafferentation
  • Fimbria-fornix
  • Mammillary nucleus
  • Transneuronal injury
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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