We have shown previously that rubral axons grow around a lesion of their spinal pathway in the North American opossum if it is made at early stages of development. In the present experiments, we have asked whether reticular and vestibular axons have the same ability. The spinal cord was hemisected at postnatal day 20, 12, or 5, well within the critical period for rubrospinal plasticity, and, approximately 30 days later, bilateral injections of fast blue were made about four segments caudal to the lesion. The pups were killed 4 or 5 days after the injections. In most of the animals lesioned on postnatal day 20, labeled neurons were not found in the medial part of the pontine reticular nucleus or the dorsal part of the lateral vestibular nucleus ipsilateral to the lesion. The spinal projections from both areas are exclusively ipsilateral. When the lesions were made at postnatal day 12 or 5, however, labeled neurons were present in both areas, suggesting that they supported axons that had grown caudal to the lesion. As was expected from previous studies, rubral neurons were labeled contralateral to the lesion in all three groups. In the opossum, as in other species, the red nucleus projects contralaterally. We conclude that reticular and vestibular axons, like axons from the red nucleus, grow around a lesion of their pathway during development and that the critical period for their plasticity ends earlier than that for rubrospinal axons. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
- spinal cord
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