Astrocytes block axonal regeneration in mammals by activating the physiological stop pathway

Science. 1987 Aug 7;237(4815):642-5. doi: 10.1126/science.3603044.


Regenerating sensory axons in the dorsal roots of adult mammals are stopped at the junction between the root and spinal cord by reactive astrocytes. Do these cells stop axonal elongation by activating the physiological mechanisms that normally operate to stop axons during development, or do they physically obstruct the elongating axons? In order to distinguish these possibilities, the cytology of the axon tips of regenerating axons that were stopped by astrocytes was compared with the axon tips that were physically obstructed at a cul-de-sac produced by ligating a peripheral nerve. The terminals of the physically obstructed axon tips were distended with neurofilaments and other axonally transported structures that had accumulated when the axons stopped elongating. By contrast, neurofilaments did not accumulate in the tips of regenerating axons that were stopped by spinal cord astrocytes at the dorsal root transitional zone. These axo-glial terminals resembled the terminals that axons make on target neurons during normal development. On the basis of these observations, astrocytes appear to stop axons from regenerating in the mammalian spinal cord by activating the physiological stop pathway that is built into the axon and that normally operates when axons form stable terminals on target cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Astrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / ultrastructure
  • Ligation
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Rats