Delayed glial cell death following Wallerian degeneration in white matter tracts after spinal cord dorsal column cordotomy in adult rats

Patricia Warden, Norman I. Bamber, Huaying Li, Andrew Esposito, Kaashif A. Ahmad, Chung Y. Hsu, Xiao Ming Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

98 Scopus citations


The devastating consequences of spinal cord injury (SCI) result primarily from damage to long tracts in the spinal white matter. To elucidate the secondary injury processes occurring after SCI, we investigated the relationship between apoptosis and Wallerian degeneration in spinal white matter tracts. In the rat spinal cord, the corticospinal tract (CST) and the dorsal ascending tract (DAT) are separated from each other in the dorsal column and relay information in opposite directions. A dorsal column cordotomy at the eighth thoracic (T8) level simultaneously induces Wallerian degeneration in the CST caudal to and in the DAT rostral to the injury. Using the terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling (TUNEL) method, we demonstrate that apoptosis occurred in areas of Wallerian degeneration in both tracts throughout the length of the cord segments studied (from T3 to T12). This delayed cell death, more apparent in the DAT, began at 7 days after injury and peaked at 14 days for the DAT and 28 days for the CST. Although a few TUNEL+ cells, slightly above the non-injury control level, were found in intact areas of both tracts, statistically significant differences in the number of TUNEL+ cells were found between the intact and the lesioned tract segments (CST, F < 0.01; DAT, F < 0.001). Within a particular spinal segment, a mean number of 64 and 939 TUNEL+ cells in the degenerating CST and DAT, respectively, were estimated stereologically at 14 days post-injury. TUNEL+ cells in degenerating tracts outnumber their intact counterparts by 3.8:1 in the CST and 4.1:1 in the DAT, although a statistically significant difference between the two was only found in the DAT at this time point (P < 0.05). Finally, we demonstrated that oligodendrocytes, the myelin-forming cells in the central nervous system, constitute at least a portion of the cells undergoing apoptosis within areas of Wallerian degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-224
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Oligodendrocyte
  • Rat
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Wallerian degeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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