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Dev Biol. 2004 Feb 1;266(1):27-42.

Ectoderm removal prevents cutaneous nerve formation and perturbs sensory axon growth in the chick hindlimb.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Tennessee College of Medicine, The Health Science Center, Memphis, TN 38163, USA.


Target tissues are thought to provide important cues for growing axons, yet there is little direct evidence that they are essential for axonal pathfinding. Here we examined whether target ectoderm is necessary for the formation of cutaneous nerves, and for the normal growth and guidance of cutaneous axons as they first enter the limb plexus. To do this, we removed a patch of ectoderm from the chick hindlimb at various times during early axon outgrowth. We find there is a critical period when cutaneous nerve formation requires target ectoderm. When the ectoderm is absent during this time, axons progress into the limb more slowly and, although a few sensory axons occasionally diverge a short distance from the plexus, they do not form a discrete nerve that travels to the skin. A few days later, when the nerve pattern is mature, axons normally destined for the 'deprived' cutaneous nerve are not segregated appropriately within the plexus. Some cutaneous axons are instead misdirected along an inappropriate cutaneous nerve, while others have seemingly failed to reach their correct target, or a suitable alternative, and died. These results demonstrate that the target ectoderm is necessary for normal sensory axon growth and guidance in the hindlimb.

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