Sympathetic neuroaxonal dystrophy in the aged rat pineal gland

Robert E. Schmidt, Denise A. Dorsey, Curtis A. Parvin, Lucie N. Beaudet

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6 Scopus citations


Dysfunction of circadian melatonin production by the pineal gland in aged humans and rats is thought to reflect the functional loss of its sympathetic innervation. Our ultrastructural neuropathologic studies of the sympathetic innervation of the pineal gland of aged (24 months old) Fischer-344 and Sprague-Dawley rats showed loss of nerve terminals as well as the development of neuroaxonal dystrophy (NAD), an ultrastructurally distinctive distal axonopathy, far in excess of that in young control rats. Immunolocalization of tyrosine hydroxylase confirmed the age-related loss of normal noradrenergic innervation and development of NAD. NAD was more frequent in aged female rats compared to males and was particularly severe in aged female Sprague-Dawley rats compared to Fischer-344 rats. Pineal NGF content was significantly increased or unchanged in female and male aged Fischer-344 rats, respectively, compared to young controls. The rat pineal is a sensitive experimental model for the quantitative ultrastructural examination of age-related neuropathological changes in nerve terminals of postganglionic noradrenergic sympathetic axons, changes which may reflect similar changes in the diffusely distributed sympathetic innervation of other targeted endorgans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1514-1523
Number of pages10
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Age
  • Distal axonopathy
  • Neuroaxonal dystrophy
  • Pineal
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Synapse


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