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J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jun 28;409(2):285-98.

Ventrally located commissural neurons express the GABAergic phenotype in developing rat spinal cord.

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Department of Physiological Science, UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095-1527, USA.


Early-forming commissural neurons are studied intensively as a model of axonal outgrowth and pathfinding, yet the neurotransmitter phenotype of the majority of these neurons is not known. The present study has determined that a substantial number of commissural neurons express the 65-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD65) as early as embryonic day 12 (E 12). Patterns of GAD65 localization were compared with those of TAG-1, the Transiently expressed Axonal Glycoprotein that is the best known marker of commissural axons. On E13, both GAD65- and TAG-1-labeled commissural axons emanate from similar lateral and ventromedial regions. However, dorsally located TAG-1-positive commissural axons were GAD65-negative. These results suggest that commissural neurons have both gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic and non-GABAergic phenotypes. The intensity of GAD65 staining within commissural somata and axons decreased between E14-15 and continued to decline during embryonic development, whereas terminal-like structures in surrounding neuropil increased dramatically. This sudden loss of somatic and axonal GAD65 staining was unexpected and could be interpreted as commissural neurons only transiently expressing the GABAergic phenotype. Further experiments were undertaken to identify commissural neurons with other established GABAergic markers, GAD67 and GABA. When antibody labeling of the two GAD isoforms was compared, GAD67 was detected 1 day later than GAD65, and in a different subcellular distribution. In contrast to GAD65, GAD67 intensely stained somata but labeled few commissural axons. GABA immunoreactivity also was detected in commissural axons 1 day after GAD65, and the labeling pattern between E13 and E16 resembled that of GAD67 rather than GAD65. When GAD and GABA results were compared, it was clear that a number of ventrally located commissural neurons expressed and maintained the GABAergic phenotype during embryonic development. However, the early expression and subcellular redistribution of GAD65 suggests that the GAD isoforms are differentially regulated. The function of the transient GAD65 expression in commissural somata and axons is unknown, but its temporal expression pattern parallels the transient expression of TAG-1, as both are expressed during the early stages of commissural axon outgrowth and pathfinding.

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