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J Neurosci. 2001 Aug 15;21(16):6136-46.

Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor administration in postnatal life results in motor unit enlargement and continuous synaptic remodeling at the neuromuscular junction.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Overexpression of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in embryonic muscle fibers causes dramatic hyperinnervation of neuromuscular junctions. However, it is not known whether GDNF induces the extra innervation by regulation of axonal branching and/or synaptic maintenance. To address this issue, high levels of circulating GDNF were established by administering subcutaneous injections starting either at birth or later and continuing for up to 40 d. Treatment with exogenous GDNF beginning in the first week, but not later, increased the number of axons converging at neuromuscular junctions. The effect of GDNF on the branching pattern of individual motor axons was determined by reconstructing labeled axonal arbors from transgenic mice expressing yellow fluorescent protein in subsets of motor neurons. Whereas, at postnatal day 8 (P8) individual axons in control animals branched to sporadically innervate junctions within circumscribed regions of the muscle, motor units from GDNF injected animals had significantly more axonal branches and exhibited a high degree of localized arborization such that adjacent muscle fibers were often innervated by the same axon. Administration beginning at P0 and continuing through P40 prolonged multiple innervation of most fibers throughout the period of injection. Between P30 and P40 there was no net change in multiple innervation, although there was evidence of retraction bulbs, suggesting that axon extension and retraction were in equilibrium. We conclude that GDNF has a developmentally regulated effect on presynaptic branching and that sustained administration of GDNF induces a state of continuous synaptic remodeling.

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