Ultrastructure of retinal ganglion cell death after axotomy in chick embryos

Tiziana Borsello, Vincent Mottier, Vincent Castagn, Peter G H Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Axotomy often leads to neuronal death, which occurs after a particularly short delay in immature animals. Tectal lesions were made in embryonic day (E) 12 chick embryos, thereby axotomizing the retinal ganglion cells of the contralateral eye, which then died within 3 days. We here describe the ultrastructural changes in the axotomized ganglion cells. The main changes were nuclear invagination and type 3B (cytoplasmic type) cell death characterized by dilation of the perinuclear space, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi apparatus. However, nuclear invagination was never seen in type 3B dying cells. All the axotomy-induced retinal ganglion cell death appears to have been of type 3B; apoptosis was not induced by axotomy, as was confirmed by additional light microscopic experiments showing that it did not increase the frequency of apoptotic markers revealed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated biotinylated UTP nick end labeling (the TUNEL method) labeling and immunoreactivity for activated caspase-3. However, the latter methods did show small numbers of apoptotic cells dying naturally even in control retinas. After the death of the axotomized ganglion cells, they were phagocytosed mainly in Müller processes. The present findings open up the chick tectal lesion model as a system for analyzing type 3B neuronal death in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-371
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 25 2002


  • Axotomy
  • Chicken embryo
  • Development
  • Electron microscopy
  • Neuronal death
  • Retina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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