Continued In Situ DNA Fragmentation of Microglia/Macrophages in White Matter Weeks and Months after Traumatic Brain Injury

Stephen Wilson, Ramesh Raghupathi, Kathryn E. Saatman, Mary Anne Mackinnon, Tracy K. McIntosh, David I. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Paraffin-embedded material from the pons of head-injured patients whose disability could be attributed to diffuse traumatic axonal injury, and controls, was identified from the department's archive. The cases were divided into three groups based on survival, viz Group 1 (n = 5) who survived for between 4 and 8 weeks, Group 2 (n = 5) for between 3 and 9 months, and Group 3 (n = 5) who survived for more that 12 months. Sections were stained by the TUNEL (TdT-mediated UTP nick end labelling) technique, and by H&E, LFB/CV and immunohistochemically for astrocytes (GFAP) and microglia/macrophages (CD68). Microscopic abnormalities were mapped onto line diagrams of two levels of the pons and quantitation of the response determined by an eye-piece graticule placed over the medial lemmisci, cortico-spinal and transverse fiber tracts. Data were pooled by region of interest. In the H&E and LFB/CV stained sections, there was variable pallor of staining in ascending and descending fiber tracts due to loss of myelin: within these same tracts there was an astrocytosis and increased numbers of microglia/macrophages compared with controls. In the white matter tracts of the controls, there was on average 1-2 TUNEL+ cells per unit area. In contrast, there were on average 2-16 TUNEL+ cells in the cortico-spinal tracts and in the medial lemnisci of all groups of head-injured patients. CD68+ cells co-located with the TUNEL+, and their number mirrored the TUNEL+ staining with on average 16-30 cells per unit area in Group 1, 14-27 cells per unit area in Group 2, and 12-14 cells per unit area in Group 3. There was a statistical association between the TUNEL+ and CD68+ cells. Few changes were seen in the transverse fiber tracts of the pons. These findings indicate that most of the in situ DNA fragmentation occurred in microglia/macrophages in ascending and descending fiber tracts of the brain stem in which by conventional light microscopy there is Wallerian degeneration. However, in addition, a few TUNEL+ oligodendrocyte-like cells were also seen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-250
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Human traumatic brain injury
  • TUNEL staining
  • Wallerian degeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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