Ultrastructural changes in the nucleolus of facial motor neurons following axotomy during an early critical period in development

Pamela Clark, Kathryn J. Jones, Arthur La Velle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In this study, the effects of axotomy on the ultrastructure of the nucleolus and associated organelles were examined in fetal, newborn, and early postnatal facial motoneurons of the hamster. Golden hamsters used for this study were the 14‐day fetus, newborn (0 days; < 6 hr) and 2, 4, 7, and 9 days postnatal ages, with 3 animals per group. For prenatal surgeries, pregnant hamsters were anesthetized and the facial nerves severed in the fetuses via electrocautery through the uterine wall and amniotic membrane. For postnatal surgeries, the animals were anesthetized and the right facial nerve exposed and severed at its exit from the stylomastoid foramen. At the appropriate postoperative times, the animals were reanesthetized and perfused‐fixed. The facial nuclear groups were dissected and processed for routine electron microscopy. Microbody and coiled body frequencies were determined from the number of neurons containing these structures per number of neurons sampled per animal in each experimental or control group and subjected to statistical analysis. Nucleolar reactive changes that occurred during this developmental sequence fell into two major categories. The first category displayed by most injured cells consisted of an initial compacting of fibrillar material and reduction in vacuolar space. The second category appeared to represent a progression from this first stage of nucleolar reactivity into degenerative changes involving a striking segregation of nucleolar components into five distinct regions. The incidence of microbodies increased as a result of axotomy, whereas the presence of coiled bodies decreased at the later postoperative stages in the older animals. With increasing age and nucleolar maturation, the nucleolar reactive pattern became less pronounced and severe, and neuronal survival predominated. It appears, therefore, that the two categories of nucleolar changes following axotomy during early development correlate with changes observed in nucleoli under conditions of rRNA downregulation. It is hypothesized from these results that a key step in the ability of neurons to survive axotomy and successfully regenerate at these early developmental stages occurs at some point in ribosomal RNA transcription and/or processing. Complementary information at the molecular level concerning changes in nucleolar synthetic activity and ribosome production will be necessary to test this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-144
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • axon injury
  • coiled body
  • microbody
  • regeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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