The effects of nerve growth factor (NGF) on developing central cholinergic neurons were studied using intraocular grafts of rat fetal (E17) basal forebrain tissue. Prior to grafting, grafts were incubated in NGF or saline. Transplants were allowed to mature for six weeks, receiving weekly intraocular injections of NGF or saline. Measurements of NGF levels in oculo after one single injection showed that NGF slowly decreases in the anterior chamber fluid, and after one week, low but significant levels were still present in the eye. Following pretreatment with diisopropylfluorophosphate (DFP), the cholinergic neurons in the grafts were analyzed using three morphological markers: antibodies to cholineacetyltransferase (ChAT), antibodies to acetylcholinesterase (AChE Ab) and acetylcholinesterase histochemistry (AChE). The transplants grew well and became vascularized within the first week. The growth of the NGF-treated basal forebrain grafts was significantly enhanced as compared to the growth of the saline-treated grafts evaluated with repeated stereomicroscopical observations directly through the cornea of the ether-anaesthetized hosts. The NGF-treated grafts contained almost twice as many cholinergic neurons seen with all the cholinergic markers used, as the saline-treated grafts. However, there was no difference in cholinergic cell density between the two groups. The morphology and size of an individual cholinergic neuron was similar in the two groups. The fiber density as evaluated with AChE-immunohistochemistry did not change after NGF-treatment. The DFP-treatment did not seem to affect the AChE-immunoreactivity since an extensive fiber network was found, whereas almost no fibers were seen using conventional AChE histochemistry. We have demonstrated that in oculo transplantation of basal forebrain is a useful model for examining in vivo effects of NGF on central cholinergic function. The marked volume increase of NGF-treated grafts and the unchanged density of cholinergic cells and terminals suggests, that NGF increases the survival of not only developing cholinergic neurons, but possibly other non-cholinergic neurons and non-neuronal cells as well. These results support the notion that NGF acts as a neurotrophic factor on cholinergic and possibly non-cholinergic cells in the central nervous system.
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View details for PubMedID 2924843