Regeneration of adult axons in white matter tracts of the central nervous system

Nature. 1997 Dec 18-25;390(6661):680-3. doi: 10.1038/37776.


It is widely accepted that the adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS) is unable to regenerate axons. In addition to physical or molecular barriers presented by glial scarring at the lesion site, it has been suggested that the normal myelinated CNS environment contains potent growth inhibitors or lacks growth-promoting molecules. Here we investigate whether adult CNS white matter can support long-distance regeneration of adult axons in the absence of glial scarring, by using a microtransplantation technique that minimizes scarring to inject minute volumes of dissociated adult rat dorsal root ganglia directly into adult rat CNS pathways. This atraumatic injection procedure allowed considerable numbers of regenerating adult axons immediate access to the host glial terrain, where we found that they rapidly extended for long distances in white matter, eventually invading grey matter. Abortive regeneration correlated precisely with increased levels of proteoglycans within the extracellular matrix at the transplant interface, whereas successfully regenerating transplants were associated with minimal upregulation of these molecules. Our results demonstrate, to our knowledge for the first time, that reactive glial extracellular matrix at the lesion site is directly associated with failure of axon regrowth in vivo, and that adult myelinated white matter tracts beyond the glial scar can be highly permissive for regeneration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / transplantation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide