Plasticity in the central nervous system in response to injury is a complex process involving axonal remodeling regulated by specific molecular pathways. Here, we dissected the role of growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43; also known as neuromodulin and B-50) in axonal structural plasticity by using, as a model, climbing fibers. Single axonal branches were dissected by laser axotomy, avoiding collateral damage to the adjacent dendrite and the formation of a persistent glial scar. Despite the very small denervated area, the injured axons consistently reshape the connectivity with surrounding neurons. At the same time, adult climbing fibers react by sprouting new branches through the intact surroundings. Newly formed branches presented varicosities, suggesting that new axons were more than just exploratory sprouts. Correlative light and electron microscopy reveals that the sprouted branch contains large numbers of vesicles, with varicosities in the close vicinity of Purkinje dendrites. By using an RNA interference approach, we found that downregulating GAP-43 causes a significant increase in the turnover of presynaptic boutons. In addition, silencing hampers the generation of reactive sprouts. Our findings show the requirement of GAP-43 in sustaining synaptic stability and promoting the initiation of axonal regrowth.
Keywords: brain injury; laser nanosurgery; neural plasticity; two-photon imaging.