A mapping study of caspase-3 activation following acute spinal cord contusion in rats

Melanie L. McEwen, Joe E. Springer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) initiates a cascade of biochemical changes that results in necrotic and apoptotic cell death. There is evidence that caspase-3 activation and apoptotic cell death occur within hours after SCI. However, the time course and cellular localization of activated caspase-3 has not been examined. Such information is essential because caspase-3-independent apoptotic pathways do exist. In this experiment, we describe the distribution of and cell types containing activated caspase-3 at 4 hr, 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, and 8 days following SCI in rats. Numerous caspase-3-positive cells were observed at 4 hr and 1 day postinjury and colocalized most often with CC1, a marker for oligodendroglia. Both markers disappeared near the injury epicenter over the next several days. Activated caspase-3 was again present in the injured spinal cord on postoperative day 8, which coincided with a reemergence of CC1-positive cells. Many of these CC1-positive cells again colocalized activated caspase-3. NeuN-positive neurons of the dorsal horn were occasionally immunopositive for activated caspase-3 at early time points. OX42-positive microglia/macrophages rarely contained activated caspase-3. The results indicate a biphasic pattern of caspase-3 activation during the first 8 days postinjury, suggesting that at least two mechanisms activate caspase-3 following SCI. This time-course study provides a framework for investigating and understanding the different signaling events contributing to this biphasic pattern of caspase-3 activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-819
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Apoptosis
  • Central nervous system trauma
  • Contusion
  • Myelin
  • Secondary injury
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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