Astrocytes promote peripheral nerve injury-induced reactive synaptogenesis in the neonatal CNS
Neonatal damage to the trigeminal nerve leads to “reactive synaptogenesis” in the brain stem sensory trigeminal nuclei. In vitro models of brain injury-induced synaptogenesis have implicated an important role for astrocytes. In this study we tested the role of astrocyte function in reactive synaptogenesis in the trigeminal principal nucleus (PrV) of neonatal rats following unilateral transection of the infraorbital (IO) branch of the trigeminal nerve. We used electrophysiological multiple input index analysis (MII) to estimate the number of central trigeminal afferent fibers that converge onto single barrelette neurons. In the developing PrV, about 30% of afferent connections are eliminated within 2 postnatal weeks. After neonatal IO nerve damage, multiple trigeminal inputs (2.7 times that of the normal inputs) converge on single barrelette cells within 3–5 days; they remain stable up to the second postnatal week. Astrocyte proliferation and upregulation of astrocyte-specific proteins (GFAP and ALDH1L1) accompany reactive synaptogenesis in the IO nerve projection zone of the PrV. Pharmacological blockade of astrocyte function, purinergic receptors, and thrombospondins significantly reduced or eliminated reactive synaptogenesis without changing the MII in the intact PrV. GFAP immunohistochemistry further supported these electrophysiological results. We conclude that immature astrocytes, purinergic receptors, and thrombospondins play an important role in reactive synaptogenesis in the peripherally deafferented neonatal PrV.