Regenerated synapses persist in the superior colliculus after the regrowth of retinal ganglion cell axons

J Neurocytol. 1991 Nov;20(11):940-52. doi: 10.1007/BF01190471.


Synapse formation by retinal ganglion cell axons was sought in the superior colliculus of four adult rats 16-18 months after the optic nerve was transected and replaced by a peripheral nerve graft that guided regenerating RGC axons from the eye to the superior colliculus. The terminals of retinal ganglion cell axons were labelled by intravitreal injections of tritiated amino acids and studied by light and electron microscopic autoradiography. We found that (i) retinal ganglion cell axons had extended from the tips of the peripheral nerve grafts into the superior colliculus for approximately 350 microns; (ii) within the superior colliculus, some regenerated retinal ganglion cell axons became ensheathed by CNS myelin; (iii) retinal ganglion cell terminals formed asymmetric synapses with dendrites of neurons in the superficial layers of the superior colliculus, mainly the stratum griseum superficialis. Regenerated (n = 418) and normal retinal ganglion cell terminals (n = 1775) in the superior colliculus were compared in terms of their size (area, perimeter, and maximum diameter), contacts per terminal, contacts per 10 microns terminal perimeter, and post-synaptic structure contacted (dendritic spine, shaft, or soma). No statistically significant differences in the ultrastructural characteristics of the pre-synaptic profiles were apparent between the two groups. The post-synaptic structures contacted by axon terminals were similar in regenerated and control animals, although there were quantitative differences in the distributions of these contacts among dendritic spines and shafts. These results suggest that the regeneration of retinal ganglion cell axons in adult rats can lead to the formation of ultrastructurally normal synapses in the appropriate layers of the superior colliculus. The re-formed connections appear to persist for the life-span of these animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Peripheral Nerves / transplantation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure