Functional repair of transected spinal cord in embryonic chick
Article type: Research Article
Authors: Hasan, Sohail J. | Nelson, Brad H. | Valenzuela, J. Ignacio | Keirstead, Hans S. | Shull, Sarah E. | Ethell, Douglas W. | Steeves, John D.
Affiliations: Departments of Anatomy and Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. (Canada)
Note:  Present address: Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, U.S.A.
Note:  Correspondence: J.D. Steeves, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, B.C., V6T 1Z4, Canada. Fax: (l)(604)822-2416.
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to determine the developmental stage of the chick embryo when descending spinal tracts lose the capacity for anatomical and functional repair after complete transection of the thoracic spinal cord. Previous studies have demonstrated that the first reticulospinal projections descend to the lumbar cord by embryonic day (E) 5. A comparison of the distribution and density of retrogradely labelled brainstem–spinal neurons in embryos versus hatchling chicks suggests that the descent of all brainstem–spinal projections is essentially complete to lumbar levels between E10 and El2. Transections and control sham operations were performed on different embryos from E3 through E14 of development. After a recovery period of 5–18 days, the extent of anatomical repair was assessed by injecting a small volume of a retrograde tract-tracing chemical into the upper lumbar spinal cord, caudal to the transection site. The brainstem nuclei were then examined for the number and distribution of retrogradely labelled brainstem–spinal neurons. In comparison to control animals, anatomical recovery appeared to be complete for embryos transected as late as E12, whereas thoracic cord transections conducted on E13–E14 resulted in reduced labelling of most brainstem–spinal nuclei. In addition, a number of E3–E6 transected embryos were allowed to hatch and with some assistance a few E7–E14 transected embryos also hatched. Functional recovery was assessed by behavioral observations and by focal electrical stimulation of brainstem locomotor regions (known to have direct projections to the lumbar spinal cord). Brainstem stimulation experiments were undertaken on transected and control embryos, either in ovo on E18–E20 or after hatching. Leg and wing muscle electromyographic recordings were used to monitor any brainstem evoked motor activity. Voluntary open-field locomotion (hatchling chicks) or brainstem evoked locomotion (embryonic or hatchling) in animals transected on or before E12 was indistinguishable from that observed in control (i.e. sham-operated or unoperated) chicks, indicating that complete functional recovery had occurred. In contrast, chicks transected on or after El3 showed reduced functional recovery. Since a previous study has shown that neurogenesis in chick brainstem–spinal neurons is complete prior to E5, the possible intrinsic neuronal mechanisms underlying the repair of descending supraspinal pathways are: (1) subsequent projections from later developing (undamaged) neurons, or (2) regrowth of previously axotomized projections (regeneration). For the E5–E12 chick embryos examined in this study, significant descending supraspinal fibers are present within the thoracic cord at the time of transection. Even if the transection is made at E12, when descending projections have completed their development to the lumbar cord, there is still a similar number and distribution of brainstem–spinal neurons labelled afterward (when compared to controls). This suggests that regeneration of previously axotomized projections may account for some of the observed anatomical and functional repair of brainstem–spinal pathways.
Keywords: Chicken, Embryo, Spinal cord, Brainstem, brainstem–spinal pathway, Injury, Repair, Anatomy, Tract tracing, Behavior, Physiology, Electrical stimulation
Journal: Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 137-154, 1991