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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 22;106(51):21948-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912082106. Epub 2009 Dec 8.

Activity-independent specification of synaptic targets in the posterior lateral line of the larval zebrafish.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065-6399, USA.


The development of functional neural circuits requires that connections between neurons be established in a precise manner. The mechanisms by which complex nervous systems perform this daunting task remain largely unknown. In the posterior lateral line of larval zebrafish, each afferent neuron forms synaptic contacts with hair cells of a common hair-bundle polarity. We investigated whether afferent neurons distinguish hair-cell polarities by analyzing differences in the synaptic signaling between oppositely polarized hair cells. By examining two mutant zebrafish lines with defects in mechanoelectrical transduction, and by blocking transduction during the development of wild-type fish, we found that afferent neurons could form specific synapses in the absence of stimulus-evoked patterns of synaptic release. Asking next whether this specificity arises through intrinsically generated patterns of synaptic release, we found that the polarity preference persisted in two mutant lines lacking essential synaptic proteins. These results indicate that lateral-line afferent neurons do not require synaptic activity to distinguish hair-cell polarities and suggest that molecular labels of hair-cell polarity guide prepatterned afferents to form the appropriate synapses.

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