Some years ago it was demonstrated that when the adult rat septal nuclei are partially deafferented the remaining afferent fibres form new connections. The conclusion that new synaptic connections form in the adult central nervous system (CNS) was greeted initially with much scepticism, later with over-enthusiasm and unwarranted generalisation to all lesion situations, together with even less warranted attribution of various beneficial functional properties. Today, as the pendulum swings into a more reasonable position, some of the original observations, which at the time attracted little attention, have become more interesting. (1) The observation that in the normal septal nuclei the ratio of spine to shaft synapses is extraordinarily constant (to an accuracy better than 1%) from one animal to another. How could such almost crystalline rigidity of structure be produced in normal development and maintained in the face of major lesion-induced changes in connectivity? (2) The observation that synaptic re-occupation by sprouting axons restores exactly the normal number of synapses, presumably indicating that the neurones have a fixed number (as well as spine/shaft distribution) of postsynaptic sites. Thus, the septal lesion paradigm is as strong a method for investigating synaptic rigidity as for investigating plasticity. In the intervening years, the use of embryo to adult transplantation has made it obvious that considerable reconstruction of adult brain synaptology is possible, and that many of the normal rules of connectivity are maintained (most prominently for the ‘point-to-point’ axonal systems). What could lead to further fruitful investigation is the extent to which the observations (e.g. relating to hierarchies of axonal preference, the need for denervation, and the involvement of glial cells) in partially deafferented adult systems, such as the septal nuclei, are retained, or modified, in face of the ingrowing fibres from embryonic transplants.

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