Axonal domains within shared touch domes in the rat: A comparison of their fate during conditions favoring collateral sprouting and following axonal regeneration Journal Articles uri icon

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  • AbstractLow‐threshold mechanosensory nerves in the adult rat differ both from their counterparts in lower vertebrates and from high‐threshold nociceptive nerves in mammals in that they appear not to undergo collateral sprouting into adjacent denervated skin, although they will clearly regenerate into it after they are damaged. We have now studied the growth capabilities of the low‐threshold nerves supplying touch domes, the visible mechanosensory structures scattered throughout the hairy skin. Touch domes in the rat are often multiply innervated. A serendipitous observation on such domes allowed us to investigate the possibility that a functional collateral sprouting of their nerves can indeed occur, but only to a spatially very restricted extent, e.g., within the confines of a partially denervated dome. We used a “prodder” with a tip diameter of 16 μm to examine the mechanosensory profile across single domes that were preselected as being supplied by only two axons, one running in each of two adjacent dorsal cutaneous nerves (DCNs). Simultaneous recordings were made of the afferent discharges evoked in these nerves when the prodder was applied at about 17 or more locations on a selected dome; the spatial resolution was better than 55 μm. We found that within such a shared dome, one axon can supply a discrete territory (its “domain”), which may or may not overlap with the corresponding domain of the other axon. In a preliminary electron microscopic study, we found no evidence for a sharing of single Merkel cells, which are the specialized sensory cells in touch domes, even in the regions of a shared dome where two domains overlapped; each innervated Merkel cell appeared to be contacted by a single nerve ending, implying that in a shared dome each axon probably supplies an exclusive subpopulation of the Merkel cells. We tested for functional collateral sprouting by eliminating one nerve to a shared dome, and at a selected time thereafter mapping the domain of the remaining axon to see whether it had enlarged. The result was the same whether the two domains initially had a region of overlap or not; no expansion of the surviving domain occurred over postoperative periods up to 4 months (an expansion of the domain by 55 μm would have been detected). Thus functional collateral sprouting had failed to occur. In contrast, when the entire DCN containing one of the axons was surgically eliminated, and that containing the other axon crushed and allowed to regenerate, invariably the axon that grew into the now totally denervated dome invaded it extensively, restoring mechanosensitivity to both former domains.The likelihood that these and related results imply that collateral sprouting and regeneration are evoked by different mechanisms is discussed.


  • Yasargil, GM
  • Macintyre, L
  • Doucette, R
  • Visheau, B
  • Holmes, M
  • Diamond, James

publication date

  • April 8, 1988