Long Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells in the Cat After Selective Crush of the Optic Nerve

Eur J Neurosci. 1991;3(12):1245-1254. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.1991.tb00058.x.


In each of four cats gentle pressure was applied to one optic nerve by means of an inflatable cuff in order to disrupt the largest axons (Y fibres) and so produce a conduction block in them. It has previously been shown that this technique, as used by us, causes Wallerian degeneration in the fibres posterior to the site of application of the pressure (the crush site). The optic nerves and retinas in these cats were examined 2 - 2.8 years later. The optic nerves were prepared for electron microscopy and the retinas were flat-mounted. Here we report an average 90% loss of large axons (>5 microm diameter) in the nerve posterior to the crush site. However, in the part of the nerve anterior to the crush site there was only a 33% loss and in the retina only a 57.5% reduction in the number of neurons of soma diameter >25 microm (i.e. alpha cells, the cell bodies of the Y neurons). These last two sets of values were significantly different, suggesting that the retinal ganglion cells had shrunk relatively more than the axons. Thus, the crushing technique has effectively axotomized almost all the Y fibres but, in spite of this, about half of the alpha retinal ganglion cells have survived this particular form of axotomy, with their axons intact at least for some distance into the optic nerve. This long survival raises the possibility that these neurons may have regenerated axons which have found targets and thus ensured their survival.