Neocortical neural sprouting, synaptogenesis, and behavioral recovery after neocortical infarction in rats.
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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Neuroanatomical plasticity is well described in lesions of the hippocampus but remains a subject of some controversy in the neocortex. The purpose of the present study was to measure the neocortical distribution and density of expression of proteins known to be involved in neurite growth or synaptogenesis and to correlate the neocortical expression with behavioral recovery after a focal neocortical infarction. Focal neocortical infarction creates a circumscribed lesion in the neocortex that provides a denervation stimulus for neurite growth and synaptogenesis. METHODS: Unilateral neocortical ischemia was induced in male spontaneously hypertensive Wistar rats (n = 4 per time point) by permanent occlusion of the distal middle cerebral artery and ipsilateral common carotid artery. To determine the spatial and temporal distribution of neurite growth and/or synaptogenesis, GAP-43, a growth-associated protein expressed on axonal growth cones, and synaptophysin, a calcium-binding protein found on synaptic vesicles, were examined by immunohistochemical techniques. The reaction product was measured, and the distribution was recorded. Since the resulting infarction included a portion of the forelimb neocortex, behavioral assessments of forelimb function that used the foot-fault test of Hernandez and Schallert were performed on the same rats used for immunohistochemical studies. Recovery times were 3, 7, 14, 30, and 60 days after surgery. RESULTS: Both GAP-43 and synaptophysin proteins demonstrated statistically significant increases in the density of immunoreaction product as determined by optical density measurements in the neocortex of infarcted rats compared with sham controls. The GAP-43 was elevated to statistically significant levels in forelimb, hindlimb, and parietal neocortical regions medial and lateral to the infarction only at days 3, 7, and 14. In contrast, synaptophysin demonstrated no statistically significant changes in expression at 3 or 7 days but demonstrated statistically significant increases at 14, 30, and 60 days in the forelimb, hindlimb, and parietal neocortical regions medial and lateral to the infarction as well as in the contralateral parietal neocortex. Behavioral assessment of forelimb function indicated impairment of forelimb placement on the side contralateral to the infarction that trended toward control values at 14 days and was not significantly different from controls by 30 days. CONCLUSIONS: These data support the occurrence of neurite growth followed by synaptogenesis in the neocortex, ipsilateral and contralateral to neocortical ischemia, in a pattern that corresponds both spatially and temporally with behavioral recovery. Thus, neuroanatomical remodeling in the neocortex provides a mechanism for recovery of function.