Direct interactions between immunocytes and neurons after axotomy in Aplysia

Maryjane Farr, De Fen Zhu, Michael Povelones, Diana Valcich, Richard T. Ambron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Axon growth during development and after injury has processes in common, but also differs in that regeneration requires the participation of cells of the immune system. To investigate how neuron-immunocyte interactions might influence regeneration, we developed an in vitro model whereby neurons and hemocytes from Aplysia californica were cocultured. The hemocytes, which behave like vertebrate macrophages, migrated randomly throughout the dish. When a neuron was encountered, some hemocytes exhibited an avoidance response, whereas others formed stable contacts. Hemocytes did not distinguish between neurons from different animals. Stable contacts occurred on neurites and growth cones, but not the cell soma, and were benign in that the hemocytes did not impede neurite growth. When hemocytes attached to the cell body, it presaged the destruction of the neuron. Destruction was a dynamic process that was initiated when groups of one to three hemocytes adhered to various regions of the cell soma. Each group was then joined by other hemocytes. They did not contact the neuron, but interconnected the initial groups, forming a network around the neuron. The network then contracted to dismember the cell. Once a neuron was destroyed, hemocytes removed the debris by phagocytosis. Both damaged neurons and those without apparent damage were targets for destruction. Severing neurites with a needle resulted in the destruction of only one of six cells. Our studies suggest that hemocytes, and by extrapolation, vertebrate macrophages, exhibit highly complex interactions with neurons that can exert a variety of influences on the course of nerve regeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-96
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 5 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Axotomy
  • Cell-cell interactions
  • Growth cones
  • Immunocytes
  • Neuron destruction
  • Phagocytosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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