During both development and regeneration, the survival of neurones and the growth of axons are controlled by inherent neuronal properties, conditions in the axonal environment, and the establishment of appropriately timed and specific functional contacts. To study the effects of extrinsic influences on the survival, growth and connectivity of axotomized neurones in the mature mammalian CNS, we replaced the optic nerve in adult rats with segments of autologous peripheral nerve (PN) and used morphometric techniques, neuroanatomical tracer substances and immunological cell markers to examine retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), their axons in the PN grafts and their terminals in the superior colliculi (SC) of these animals. We observed that: (1) the survival of axotomized RGCs was enhanced by the PN grafts; (2) in the PN-grafted eyes, approximately 20% of the surviving RGCs regrew their axons into the grafts and (3) some of the RGC axons that regenerated along the PN grafts bridging the eye and the tectum re-entered the SC, arborized and made synaptic contacts with tectal neurones. It is not known if the terminal connections established between RGCs and cells in the SC are appropriate, functional or capable of influencing the long-term survival of their cells of origin.

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