Increased uptake and transport of cholera toxin B-subunit in dorsal root ganglion neurons after peripheral axotomy: possible implications for sensory sprouting

J Comp Neurol. 1999 Feb 8;404(2):143-58.


In the present study we show that, in contrast to the rat, injection of cholera toxin B-subunit (CTB) into the intact sciatic nerve of Macaca mulatta monkey gives rise to labelling of a sparse network of fibers in laminae I-II of spinal cord and of some mainly small dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. Twenty days after sciatic nerve cut, the percentage of CTB-positive lumbar 5 (L5) DRG neuron profiles increased from 11% to 73% of all profiles. In the spinal cord, a marked increase in CTB labelling was seen in laminae I, II, and the dorsal part of lamina III. In the rat L5 DRGs, 18 days after sciatic nerve cut, the percentage of CTB- and CTB conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (HRP)-labelled neuron profiles increased from 45% to 81%, and from 54% to 87% of all neuron profiles, respectively. Cell size measurements in the rat showed that most of the CTB-positive neuron profiles were small in size after axotomy, whereas most were large in intact DRGs. In the rat spinal dorsal horn, a dense network of CTB-positive fibers covered the whole dorsal horn on the axotomized side, whereas CTB-labelled fibers were mainly seen in laminae III and deeper laminae on the contralateral side. A marked increase in CTB-positive fibers was also seen in the gracile nucleus. The present study shows that in both monkey and rat DRGs, a subpopulation of mainly small neurons acquires the capacity to take up CTB/CTB-HRP after axotomy, a capacity normally not associated with these DRG neurons. These neurons may transganglionically transport CTB and CTB-HRP. Thus, after peripheral axotomy, CTB and CTB-HRP are markers not only for large but also for small DRG neurons and, thus, possibly also for both myelinated and unmyelinated primary afferents in the spinal dorsal horn. These findings may lead to a reevaluation of the concept of sprouting, considered to take place in the dorsal horn after peripheral nerve injury.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axotomy
  • Binding Sites / physiology
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cholera Toxin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism*
  • Horseradish Peroxidase / pharmacokinetics
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lectins / metabolism
  • Macaca mulatta / metabolism
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Rats / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Lectins
  • cholera toxin, B subunit-horseradish peroxidase
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Horseradish Peroxidase