Development of serotonin immunoreactivity in the rat spinal cord and its plasticity after neonatal spinal cord lesions

Brain Res. 1987 Aug;431(2):245-63. doi: 10.1016/0165-3806(87)90213-6.


The postnatal maturation of spinal pathways may account for the gradual time course of postnatal development of behavior and also account for the greater anatomical reorganization which often follows damage to the developing CNS compared to the mature CNS. The purpose of the current study was to examine (1) the prenatal and postnatal development of the descending serotonergic (5-HT) projection to the spinal cord and (2) the effects of a neonatal spinal cord lesion on this development. In addition, we wished to determine (3) whether transplants of fetal spinal cord tissue placed into the neonatal lesion site alter the plasticity of the 5-HT projection to the cord. Peroxidase-antiperoxidase immunocytochemical techniques were used. At embryonic day 14 (E14), no 5-HT immunoreactive fibers could be identified at any spinal cord level. By E18 the first axons were identified in the white matter only at all spinal cord levels. At birth, 5-HT immunoreactive fibers were present both in the white matter and in the gray matter at all cord levels. The projection within the gray matter was diffuse and considerably less dense than in the adult. The postnatal maturation of the 5-HT projection within the gray matter of the spinal cord followed rostral to caudal and ventral to dorsal gradients. During the first weeks postnatal, the 5-HT immunoreactivity within the cord increased to attain an adult pattern and density by 14 days in the cervical cord and 21 days in the thoracic and lumbar cord. The effect of a spinal cord hemisection at birth on the anatomical reorganization of the descending serotonergic innervation of the cord was compared with the effect of the same lesion in the adult. In the adult animal, mid-thoracic hemisection decreased the 5-HT content of the ventral horn of the lumbar spinal cord caudal and ipsilateral to the lesion to 8% of that on the intact side. When this same lesion was made in the newborn animal, the innervation was 43% of that on the intact side. When a transplant of fetal spinal cord tissue was inserted into the lesion site in the newborn animals, there was even greater 5-HT innervation caudal to the lesion, 83% of that on the intact side. These results indicate that there is considerable postnatal development and plasticity of the descending serotonergic projection to the spinal cord, and this plasticity is enhanced by the presence of a spinal cord transplant at the site of the lesion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Efferent Pathways / growth & development
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / growth & development*
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism


  • Serotonin