Cell death suggestive of apoptosis after spinal cord ischemia in rabbits

Mary E. Mackey, Yingji Wu, Rong Hu, Joseph A. DeMaro, Mark F. Jacquin, Georgios K. Kanellopoulos, Chung Y. Hsu, Nicholas T. Kouchoukos

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61 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose: After spinal cord ischemia, some neurons remain viable after an ischemic insult but may be at risk of dying during reperfusion. We searched for morphological and biochemical features of apoptosis, which is a mechanism of delayed neuronal death, in a rabbit model of spinal cord ischemia. Methods: The infrarenal aorta of White New Zealand rabbits (n=24) was occluded for 40 minutes using a loop tourniquet. Rabbits were killed after 12, 24, or 48 hours (n=8 per group). The loop was placed but never tightened in shamoperated rabbits (n =6). The lumbar segment of the spinal cord (L5 to L7) was used for morphological studies, including hematoxylin and eosin staining and a modified terminal deoxy- nucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end-labeling (TUNEL) staining method. Electron microscopy was used to examine ultrastructural morphology. In addition, lumbar tissue was used for biochemical investigation of DNA laddering by agarose gel electrophoresis. Results: After ischemia, the affected areas contained neurons with positive TUNEL staining. Positive neurons were located in laminae III to IX, although most were concentrated in the intermediate and ventral areas. Adjacent sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin exhibited ischemic cell changes (red and ghost neurons), while apoptotic bodies were also apparent. In addition, electron microscopy of ischemic tissue samples exhibited ultrastructural characteristics of apoptosis, including nuclear condensation and relatively normal organelle morphology. Finally, isolated DNA revealed a ladder on agarose gel electrophoresis, indicating DNA fragmentation into ≃180 multiples of base pairs. Conclusions: Spinal cord ischemia in rabbits induces morphological and biochemical changes suggestive of apoptosis. These data raise the possibility that apoptosis contributes to neuronal cell death after spinal cord ischemia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2012-2017
Number of pages6
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1997


  • Apoptosis
  • Neuronal death
  • Rabbits
  • Reperfusion
  • Spinal cord


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