Distribution of Elements in Rat Peripheral Axons and Nerve Cell Bodies Determined by X‐Ray Microprobe Analysis

Richard M. LoPachin, Joan Lowery, Joseph Eichberg, Joel B. Kirkpatrick, Joiner Cartwright, Albert J. Saubermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Abstract: X‐ray microprobe analysis was used to determine concentrations (millimoles of element per kilogram dry weight) of Na, P, Cl, K, and Ca in cellular compartments of frozen, unfixed sections of rat sciatic and tibial nerves and dorsal root ganglion (DRG). Five compartments were examined in peripheral nerve (axoplasm, mitochondria, my‐elin, extraaxonal space, and Schwann cell cytoplasm), and four were analyzed in DRG nerve cell bodies (cytoplasm, mitochondria, nucleus, and nucleolus). Each morphological compartment exhibited characteristic concentrations of elements. The extraaxonal space contained high concentrations of Na, Cl, and Ca, whereas intraaxonal compartments exhibited lower concentrations of these elements but relatively high K. contents. Nerve axoplasm and axonal mitochondria had similar elemental profiles, and both compartments displayed proximodistal gradients of decreasing levels of K, Cl, and, to some extent, Na. Myelin had a selectively high P concentration with low levels of other elements. The elemental concentrations of Schwann cell cytoplasm and DRG were similar, but both were different from that of axoplasm, in that K and Cl were markedly lower whereas P was higher. DRG cell nuclei contained substantially higher K levels than cytoplasm. The subcellu‐lar distribution of elements was clearly shown by color‐coded images generated by computer‐directed digital x‐ray imaging. The results of this study demonstrate characteristic elemental distributions for each anatomical compartment, which doubtless reflect nerve cell structure and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-775
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Axon
  • Elements
  • Nerve cell body
  • X‐ray microprobe analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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