Unexpected survival of neurons of origin of the pyramidal tract after spinal cord injury

Jessica L. Nielson, Ilse Sears-Kraxberger, Melissa K. Strong, Jamie K. Wong, Rafer Willenberg, Oswald Steward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


There is continuing controversy about whether the cells of origin of the corticospinal tract (CST) undergo retrograde cell death after spinal cord injury (SCI). All previous attempts to assess this have used imaging and/or histological techniques to assess upper motoneurons in the cerebral cortex. Here, we address the question in a novel way by assessing Wallerian degeneration and axon numbers in the medullary pyramid of Sprague Dawley rats after both acute SCI, either at cervical level 5 (C5) or thoracic level 9 (T9), and chronic SCI at T9. Our findings demonstrate that only a fraction of a percentage of the total axons in the medullary pyramid exhibit any sign of degeneration at any time after SCI - no more so than in uninjured control rats. Moreover, design-based counts of myelinated axons revealed no decrease in axon number in the medullary pyramid after SCI, regardless of injury level, severity, or time after injury. Spinal cord-injured rats had fewer myelinated axons in the medullary pyramid at 1 year after injury than aged matched controls, suggesting that injury may affect ongoing myelination of axons during aging. We conclude that SCI does not cause death of the CST cell bodies in the cortex; therefore, therapeutic strategies aimed at promoting axon regeneration of the CST in the spinal cord do not require a separate intervention to prevent retrograde degeneration of upper motoneurons in the cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11516-11528
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 25 2010


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