Background. Septal cholinergic neurons account for most of the cholinergic innervations of the hippocampus, playing a key role in the regulation of hippocampal synaptic activity. Disruption of the septo-hippocampal pathway by an experimental transection of the fimbria-fornix drastically reduces the target-derived trophic support received by cholinergic septal neurons, mainly nerve growth factor (NGF) from the hippocampus. Axotomy of cholinergic neurons induces a reduction in the number of neurons positive for cholinergic markers in the medial septum. In several studies, the reduction of cholinergic markers has been interpreted as analogous to the neurodegeneration of cholinergic cells, ruling out the possibility that neurons lose their cholinergic phenotype without dying. Understanding the mechanism of cholinergic neurodegeneration after axotomy is relevant, since this paradigm has been extensively explored as an animal model of the cholinergic impairment observed in neuropathologies such as Alzheimer's disease. The principal aim of this study was to evaluate, using modern quantitative confocal microscopy, neurodegenerative changes in septal cholinergic neurons after axotomy and to assess their response to delayed infusion of NGF in rats. Results. We found that there is a slow reduction of cholinergic cells labeled by ChAT and p75 after axotomy. However, this phenomenon is not accompanied by neurodegenerative changes or by a decrease in total neuronal number in the medial septum. Although the remaining axotomized-neurons appear healthy, they are unable to respond to delayed NGF infusion. Conclusions. Our results demonstrate that at 3 weeks, axotomized cholinergic neurons lose their cholinergic phenotype without dying and down-regulate their NGF-receptors, precluding the possibility of a response to NGF. Therefore, the physiological role of NGF in the adult septal cholinergic system is to support phenotypic differentiation and not survival of neurons. This evidence raises questions about the relationship between transcriptional regulation of the cholinergic phenotype by retrograde-derived trophic signaling and the transcriptional changes experienced when retrograde transport is impaired due to neuropathological conditions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Clinical Neurology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience