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J Neurobiol. 1991 Nov;22(8):811-22.

Migration patterns of sympathetic preganglionic neurons in embryonic rat spinal cord.

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Division of Neurosciences, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, California 91010-0269.


The displacement of immature neurons from their place of origin in the germinal epithelium toward their adult positions in the nervous system appears to involve migratory pathways or guides. While the importance of radial glial fibers in this process has long been recognized, data from recent investigations have suggested that other mechanisms might also play a role in directing the movement of young neurons. We have labeled autonomic preganglionic cells by microinjections of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) into the sympathetic chain ganglia of embryonic rats in order to study the migration and differentiation of these spinal cord neurons. Our results, in conjunction with previous observations, suggest that the migration pattern of preganglionic neurons can be divided into three distinct phases. In the first phase, the autonomic motor neurons arise in the ventral ventricular zone and migrate radially into the ventral horn of the developing spinal cord, where, together with somatic motor neurons, they form a single, primitive motor column (Phelps P. E., Barber R. P., and Vaughn J. E. (1991). J. Comp. Neurol. 307:77-86). During the second phase, the autonomic motor neurons separate from the somatic motor neurons and are displaced dorsally toward the intermediate spinal cord. When the preganglionic neurons reach the intermediolateral (IML) region, they become progressively more multipolar, and many of them undergo a change in alignment, from a dorsoventral to a mediolateral orientation. In the third phase of autonomic motor neuron development, some of these cells are displaced medially, and occupy sites between the IML and central canal. The primary and tertiary movements of the preganglionic neurons are in alignment with radial glial processes in the embryonic spinal cord, an arrangement that is consistent with a hypothesis that glial elements might guide autonomic motor neurons during these periods of development. In contrast, during the second phase, the dorsal translocation of preganglionic neurons occurs in an orientation perpendicular to radial glial fibers, indicating that glial elements are not involved in the secondary migration of these cells. The results of previous investigations have provided evidence that, in addition to glial processes, axonal pathways might provide a substrate for neuronal migration. Logically, therefore, it is possible that the secondary dorsolateral translocation of autonomic preganglionic neurons could be directed along early forming circumferential axons of spinal association interneurons, and this hypothesis is supported by the fact that such fibers are appropriately arrayed in both developmental time and space to guide this movement.

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