An important feature of ischemic brain damage is the exceptional vulnerability of specific neuronal populations and the relative resistance of others. Silver impregnation was used to delineate the extent and time-course of neuronal degeneration produced by 5 min of complete forebrain ischemia in the Mongolian gerbil. Lesions were confined to four brain regions: (1) hippocampal areas CA1, CA2-CA3a and CA4; (2) the dorsomedial portion of the lateral septal nucleus; (3) the dorsolateral portion of the striatum; and (4) the somatosensory neocortex. The ischemic lesion evolved with time in all four regions, but at different rates. Somatic argyrophilia developed rapidly in the striatum and hippocampal area CA4 (maximal in 24 h or less), at intermediate rates in the somatosensory neocortex, hippocampal areas CA1a and CA2-CA3a and the lateral septal nucleus (maximal in 2 days), and slowly in hippocampal area CA1b (maximal in 3 days). These results emphasize that the extent and rate of neuronal degeneration can vary even within a presumably homogeneous neuronal population, as evidenced by the different results in areas CA1a and CA1b. Similar results were obtained from analysis of brain sections stained with Cresyl Violet, hematoxylin-eosin or hematoxylin-eosin/Luxol Fast Blue. Terminal-like silver granules were observed in the projection fields of degenerated neurons. They also appeared, however, in the perforant path terminal zone of the hippocampal dentate molecular layer 1-2 days after transient ischemia and in stratum oriens and stratum radiatum of area CA1b prior to somatic degeneration. These granular deposits could not be clearly related to the degeneration of neuronal somata. Novel findings of this study include the degeneration of some dentate basket cells and lateral septal neurons and the appearance of terminal-like argyrophilia in the hippocampal formation without any obvious relation to somatic degeneration. Some of our results lend support to the hypothesis that ischemic neuronal cell death constitutes an excitotoxic process. Other results, however, suggest that the selective vulnerability of neurons to transient ischemia must involve factors beyond excitotoxicity.
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