Contusive spinal cord injury (SCI) results in the formation of a chronic lesion cavity surrounded by a rim of spared fibers. Tissue bridges containing axons extend from the spared rim into the cavity dividing it into chambers. Whether descending axons can grow into these trabeculae or whether fibers within the trabeculae are spared fibers remains unclear. The purposes of the present study were (1) to describe the initial axonal response to contusion injury in an identified axonal population, (2) to determine whether and when sprouts grow in the face of the expanding contusion cavity, and (3) in the long term, to see whether any of these sprouts might contribute to the axonal bundles that have been seen within the chronic contusion lesion cavity. The design of the experiment also allowed us to further characterize the development of the lesion cavity after injury. The corticospinal tract (CST) underwent extensive dieback after contusive SCI, with retraction bulbs present from 1 day to 8 months postinjury. CST sprouting occurred between 3 weeks and 3 months, with penetration of CST axons into the lesion matrix occurring over an even longer time course. Collateralization and penetration of reticulospinal fibers were observed at 3 months and were more extensive at later time points. This suggests that these two descending systems show a delayed regenerative response and do extend axons into the lesion cavity and that the endogenous repair can continue for a very long time after SCI.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.