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J Neurosci. 2005 Jan 5;25(1):1-9.

Activity dependence of cortical axon branch formation: a morphological and electrophysiological study using organotypic slice cultures.

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  • 1Neuroscience Laboratories, Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, Osaka University, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.


The influence of neuronal activity on cortical axon branching was studied by imaging axons of layer 2/3 neurons in organotypic slice cultures of rat visual cortex. Upper layer neurons labeled by electroporation of plasmid encoding yellow fluorescent protein were observed by confocal microscopy. Time-lapse observation of single-labeled axons showed that axons started to branch after 8-10 d in vitro. Over the succeeding 7-10 d, branch complexity gradually increased by both growth and retraction of branches, resulting in axon arbors that morphologically resembled those observed in 2- to 3-week-old animals. Electrophysiological recordings of neuronal activity in the upper layers, made using multielectrode dishes, showed that the frequency of spontaneous firing increased dramatically approximately 10 d in vitro and remained elevated at later stages. To examine the involvement of spontaneous firing and synaptic activity in branch formation, various blockers were applied to the culture medium. Cultures were silenced by TTX or by a combination of APV and DNQX but exhibited a homeostatic recovery of spontaneous activity over several days in the presence of blockers of either NMDA-type or non-NMDA-type glutamate receptors alone. Axonal branching was suppressed by TTX and AMPA receptor blockade but not by NMDA receptor blockade. We conclude that cortical axon branching is highly dynamic and that neural activity regulates the early developmental branching of upper layer cortical neurons through the activation of AMPA-type glutamate receptors.

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