Reorganization of central terminals of myelinated primary afferents in the rat dorsal horn following peripheral axotomy

C. J. Woolf, P. Shortland, M. Reynolds, J. Ridings, T. Doubell, R. E. Coggeshall

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252 Scopus citations


We have investigated the time course and extent to which peripheral nerve lesions cause a morphological reorganization of the central terminals of choleragenoid‐horseradish peroxidase (B‐HRP)‐labelled primary afferent fibers in the mammalian dorsal horn. Choleragenoid horseradish peroxidase is retrogradely transported by myelinated (A) sensory axons to laminae I, III, IV and V of the normal dorsal horn of the spinal cord, leaving lamina II unlabelled. We previously showed that peripheral axotomy results in the sprouting of numerous B‐HRP labelled large myelinated sensory axons into lamina II. We show here that this spread of B‐HRP‐labelled axons into lamina II is detectable at 1 week, maximal by 2 weeks and persists for over 6 months postlesion. By 9 months, however, B‐HRP fibers no longer appear in lamina II. The sprouting into lamina II occurs whether regeneration is allowed (crush) or prevented (section with ligation), and does not reverse at times when peripheral fibers reinnervate the periphery. We also show that 15 times more synaptic terminals in lamina II are labelled by B‐HRP 2 weeks after axotomy than in the normal. We interpret this as indicating that the sprouting fibers are making synaptic contacts with postsynaptic targets. This implies that A‐fiber terminal reorganization is a prominent and long‐lasting but not permanent feature of peripheral axotomy. We also provide evidence that this sprouting is the consequence of a combination of an atrophic loss of central synaptic terminals and the conditioning of the sensory neurons by peripheral axotomy. The sprouting of large sensory fibers into the spinal territory where postsynaptic targets usually receive only small afferent fiber input may bear on the intractable touch‐evoked pain that can follow nerve injury. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-134
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 11 1995


  • nerve injury
  • regeneration
  • sensory neurons
  • sprouting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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