Whereas quite a number of previous reports have shown that the developing brain is vulnerable to protein deprivation, the mature CNS is usually considered resistant to this condition. To explore this assumption the present experimental model was built on groups of 2-month-old rats fed with a low-protein diet (8% casein) for 6, 12, and 18 months and respective agematched controls fed for the same periods with a standard laboratory chow (27% casein). The numerical density of cerebellar granule cells was estimated using three different stereological procedures (classical, unfolding, and disector). By all methods a significant cell loss was demonstrated. In the hippocampal region the numerical densities of dentate gyrus granule cells and the CA3 pyramidal cells were estimated using the unbiased disector method. A significative and progressive loss of neurons was likewise found. The occurrence of cell loss after lengthy periods of undernutrition in adulthood is thus an issue of paramount importance if extrapolation can be made to the human brain. © 1989.
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