Cajal described both the morphology and plasticity of neurons. He summarized the structure of neurons as composed of membrane, protoplasm, Golgi apparatus, nucleus, spongioplasm and neurofibrils (cytoskeleton). He initially considered the cytoskeleton as absorbing excitation energy and forming a "conductive pathway in the protoplasm" within the neuron. Later, he viewed the neurofibrillary threads as independent, living entities and called them neurobiones. Cajal recognized neuroplasticity in development, memory, sleep, injury and dementia, as well as after exposure to cold and starvation. He noted cytoskeletal changes during these events. However, he did not causatively connect the plastic changes in neurons with the changes in cytoskeleton. Finally, Cajal proposed a theory of chemoaffinity in 1892, and modified his neurotropic theory over the next 40 years. Today we accept that changes in the cytoskeleton produce changes in neuronal morphology. The properties of the cytoskeleton and neurobione as described by Cajal are similar to those of microtubules. These long intraneuronal neurofibrils are polymers of the protein tubulin and, whilst not being living entities, are highly dynamic, sensitive to environmental stimuli, and stabilized by microtubule associated proteins (MAPs). Furthermore, Cajal was very specific in his characterization of the neurotropic factor derived from Schwann cells. Initially, he thought the chemicals attracted the axonal fibers, but later he wrote that the factor was not attractant but rather was involved in assimilation, growth and ramifications. The neurotropic hypothesis described by Cajal in Degeneration and Regeneration in the Nervous System is more similar to a neurite extension factor (NEF) than to a neurotrophic growth factor or specific chemoaffinity (attractant) molecule. S-100β is the major NEF found in PNS Schwann cells and CNS astroglial cells. In summary, the views of Cajal on neuroplasticity, its frequency and function, agree with the modern hypothesis of neuronal instability. This concept states that MAPs regulate microtubule stability by a S-100β sensitive phosphorylation processes. Serotonin, by acting on the astroglial 5-HT1A receptor, releases S-100β and regulates neuronal morphology and apoptosis. This neuronal-glial connection provides a fresh view for linking neuroplasticity, mental illness, and memory with changes in the cytoskeleton.
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