Neuronal cell loss in the CA3 subfield of the hippocampus following cortical contusion utilizing the optical disector method for cell counting

Stanley A. Baldwin, Tonya Gibson, C. Todd Callihan, Patrick G. Sullivan, Erick Palmer, Stephen W. Scheff

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122 Scopus citations


Unilateral cortical contusion in the rat results in cell loss in both the cortex and hippocampus. Pharmacological intervention with growth factors or excitatory neurotransmitter antagonists may reduce cell loss and improve neurological outcome. The window of opportunity for such intervention remains unclear because a detailed temporal analysis of neuronal loss has not been performed in the rodent cortical contusion model. To elucidate the time course of hippocampal CA3 neuronal death ensuing cortical contusion, we employed the optical disector method for assessing the total number of CA3 neurons at 1 and 6 hours, 1, 2, 10, and 30 days following injury. This stereological technique allows reporting of total cell numbers within a given region and is unaffected by change in the volume of the structure or cell size. A rapid and significant reduction in neurons/mm3 in the ipsilateral CA3 field was observed by 1 h following trauma. However, a significant increase in neurons/mm3 was seen at 30 days postinjury. This surprising finding is a result of CA3 volume shrinkage and redistribution of CA3 neurons. Utilization of the optical disector reveals that regardless of an increase in neurons/mm3 at 30 days following injury, CA3 cell loss reaches 41% of control animals by 1 day posttrauma and remains near that level at all subsequent time points examined. It is estimated that there are about 156,000 neurons in the CA3 region in control animals. By 1 h following cortical contusion the cell population decreases to 93,000 neurons indicating a very rapid cell loss. This suggests a window of less than 24 h for pharmacological intervention in order to save CA3 neurons following cortical contusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-398
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1997


  • Brain injury
  • Head trauma
  • Stereology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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