Long-term organotypic cultures of rat dorsal root ganglia were exposed to a single 40 kR dose of 184 kvp X-rays and studied in the living and fixed states by light or electron microscopy at 1–14 day intervals thereafter. Within the first 4 days following irradiation, over 30% of the neurons display chromatolytic reactions (eccentric nuclei, peripheral dispersal of Nissl substance, central granular zone) as well as abnormal nucleolar changes and dissociation of ribosomes from endoplasmic reticulum cisternae. Some satellite cells undergo retraction or acute degeneration, leaving only basement membrane to cover the neuron in these areas. 8 days after irradiation, neurons also exhibit (a) areas in which ribosomes are substantially reduced, (b) regions of cytoplasmic sequestration, (c) extensive vacuolization of granular endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi complex, and (d) diversely altered mitochondria (including the presence of ribosome-like particles or association with abnormal glycogen and lipid deposits). Nucleolar components become altered or reoriented and may form abnormal projections and ringlike configurations. Sizeable areas of the neuronal soma are now denuded of satellite cells; underlying these areas, nerve processes are found abnormally invaginated into the neuronal cytoplasm. By the 14th day following irradiation, most neurons display marked degenerative changes including extensive regions of ribosome depletion, sequestration, vacuolization, autolysis, and, in some areas, swirls of filaments, myelin figures, and heterogeneous dense bodies. These observations demonstrate that X-irradiation produces profound cytopathological changes in nervous tissue isolated from the host and that many of these changes resemble the effects of radiation on nervous tissue in vivo.

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