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J Comp Neurol. 2005 Oct 31;491(4):305-19.

Pretarget sorting of retinocollicular axons in the mouse.

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Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The map of the retina onto the optic tectum is a highly conserved feature of the vertebrate visual system; the mechanism by which this mapping is accomplished during development is a long-standing problem of neurobiology. The early suggestion by Roger Sperry that the map is formed through interactions between retinal ganglion cell axons and target cells within the tectum has gained significant experimental support and widespread acceptance. Nonetheless, reports in a variety of species indicate that some aspects of retinotopic order exist within the optic tract, leading to the suggestion that this "preordering" of retinal axons may play a role in the formation of the mature tectal map. A satisfactory account of pretarget order must provide the mechanism by which such axon order develops. Insofar as this mechanism must ultimately be determined genetically, the mouse suggests itself as the natural species in which to pursue these studies. Quantitative and repeatable methods are required to assess the contribution of candidate genes in mouse models. For these reasons, we have undertaken a quantitative study of the degree of retinotopic order within the optic tract and nerve of wild-type mice both before and after the development of the retinotectal map. Our methods are based on tract tracing using lipophilic dyes, and our results indicate that there is a reestablishment of dorsoventral but not nasotemporal retinal order when the axons pass through the chiasm and that this order is maintained throughout the subsequent tract. Furthermore, this dorsoventral retinotopic order is well established by the day after birth, long before the final target zone is discernible within the tectum. We conclude that pretarget sorting of axons according to origin along the dorsoventral axis of the retina is both spatially and chronologically appropriate to contribute to the formation of the retinotectal map, and we suggest that these methods be used to search for the molecular basis of such order by using available mouse genetic models.

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