NGF, a trophic polypeptide, is necessary for the normal development and survival of certain populations of neurons in the CNS and PNS. In the CNS, cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain magnocellular complex (BFMC) are prominent targets of NGF. During rat development, NGF increases the activity of ChAT in these neurons. In adult rats with experimental injury of axons in the fimbria-fornix, NGF prevents degenerative changes in axotomized cholinergic BFMC neurons in the medial septal nucleus (MSN). Because the amino acid sequences of NGF and its receptor (NGF-R) are highly conserved across species, we hypothesized that mouse NGF would also prevent degeneration of cholinergic BFMC neurons in nonhuman primates. Therefore, the present study was designed to test whether fimbria-fornix lesions result in retrograde degenerative changes in basal forebrain cholinergic neurons in macaques, whether these changes are prevented by mouse NGF, and whether the protective effect of NGF is selective for cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain. Following unilateral complete transection of the fornix, animals were allowed to survive for 2 weeks, during which time half of the subjects received intraventricular NGF in vehicle and the other half received vehicle alone. In animals receiving vehicle alone, there was a 55% reduction in the number of ChAT-immunoreactive cell bodies within the MSN ipsilateral to the lesion; loss of immunoreactive somata was more severe in caudal planes of the MSN. Remaining immunoreactive neurons appeared smaller than those in control, unoperated animals. In Nissl stains, there was no apparent loss of basophilic profiles in the MSN, but cells showed reduced size and intensity of basophilia. Treatment with NGF almost completely prevented reductions in the number and size of cholinergic neurons and had a significant general effect in preventing atrophy in basophilic magnocellular neurons of the MSN, though some basophilic neurons in the MSN did not appear to respond to NGF. Adjacent 7-μm-thick sections stained with ChAT and NGF-R immunocytochemistry revealed that these markers are strictly colocalized in individual neurons in the MSN in controls and in both groups of experimental animals. Thus, mouse NGF profoundly influences the process of axotomy-induced retrograde degeneration in cholinergic BFMC neurons in primates. The in vivo effectiveness of mouse NGF on primate BFMC neurons suggests that mouse or human recombinant NGF may be useful in ameliorating the ACh-dependent, age-associated memory impairments that occur in nonhuman primates. Such experiments will prove essential for the design of strategies for use of tropic factors in human diseases associated with degeneration of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3801-3813
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1990


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