The tiptoe-walking Yoshimura (twy) mouse is a model of chronic spinal cord compression caused by ossification of intraspinal ligaments. Choline acetyltransferase (CAT), which is known to be a specific marker of cholinergic neurons, best reflects spinal motoneuron function. Changes in CAT immunoreactivity following chronic spinal cord compression in twy mice were investigated quantitatively in order to elucidate spinal motoneuron functional changes according to the degree and direction of compression. Thirty 24-week-old twy mice were used in this study. They were divided into three groups according to the direction of spinal cord compression (anterior, posterior, and lateral) and the CAT immunoreactivities in whole sections of their upper cervical spinal cords were investigated quantitatively using a fluorescence microphotometry system. The lateral compression group showed histological spinal motoneuron atrophy and loss on the compressed, but not the non-compressed, side. Spinal motoneuron atrophy and loss were observed when the severity of spinal canal stenosis due to the ossified lesion, expressed as the occupation rate, was 30% or more, but the spinal motoneurons appeared normal when it was below 30%. The CAT immunofluorescence intensity of the anterior horn showed a linear negative correlation with the degree of canal stenosis. When the occupation rate was below 20%, the CAT immunofluorescence intensities in the anterior horns of the compression and control groups did not differ significantly. The CAT immunofluorescence intensity of twy mice with occupation rates of 20% or more were significantly lower than that of those with occupation rates below 20%. Furthermore, the CAT immunofluorescence intensity was significantly lower on the compressed than the non-compressed side of the lateral compression group. Thus, our findings indicate that an occupation rate of about 20% may be the critical level for functional changes in the spinal motoneurons.
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