Effect of protein malnutrition on development of mouse cortical barrels

J Comp Neurol. 1980 May 15;191(2):283-94. doi: 10.1002/cne.901910209.


Undernutrition has been shown to have a profound effect on the central nervous system of maturing experimental animals, not only on gross brain weight and chemical constitution but also on cell structure and function. The present study was undertaken to determine the effect of protein malnutrition on the cortical barrels of mouse. Animals were conceived in and suckled by mothers maintained on an 8% casein diet or on a stock diet. After weaning, mouselings were maintained on their respective diets ad libitum. Four experiments were performed on these mouselings: (1) study of the development of the barrels by the Nissl method; (2) study of the effect of vibrissal damage at different postnatal ages; (3) study of the size of the barrel area and the number of neurons at different postnatal ages; and (4) study of the selectivity of the Golgi-Cox method. The findings from comparison of malnourished mice with mice on a normal diet were :(1) a two-day delay in the development of the barrels; (2) a two-day lengthening of the period of vulnerability of barrel field neurons to neonatal vibrissal damage; (3) the barrel field area and the relative number of neurons were reduced, with the percentage of reduction decreasing with age; and (4) there was no significant difference in the average percentage of Golgi-stained neurons at different ages. These results suggest that poor nutrition has a profound effect on the development and final form of a well-defined neocortical region. The data presented here provide a useful base line against which various therapeutic regimens to reverse the effects of malnutrition on brain structure may be tested. They also suggest that inducing malnutrition may be an important way in which to manipulate the development of the nervous system in order to study the mechanisms responsible for its final form and function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Mechanoreceptors / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Organ Size
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Deficiency / pathology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / pathology*