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J Physiol. 1986 Nov;380:157-74.

Activation patterns of embryonic chick hind-limb muscles following blockade of activity and motoneurone cell death.


Motoneurone cell death and spontaneous embryonic motility were blocked in chick embryos by daily in ovo injections of d-tubocurarine from stage 28-36 (E5-10). Isolated spinal cord-hind-limb preparations were prepared from these embryos and movement sequences in response to electrical stimulation of the thoracic cord were assessed, after drug wash-out, by electromyogram (e.m.g.) or muscle-nerve recordings. In embryos in which complete blockade of lumbar motoneurone cell death was later confirmed histologically, flexor and extensor motoneurone pools were found to be activated in alternating bursts as occurs in control embryos. Thus the development of the basic cord circuits responsible for these patterns of motoneurone activation does not require motoneurone cell death. Partial blockade of motoneurone cell death by guanosine 3',5'-phosphate (cyclic GMP) was also without effect on muscle activation patterns. In ovo injection of d-tubocurarine or alpha-bungarotoxin in doses sufficient to block embryonic motility was found to have a direct effect on the spinal cord, preventing the patterned activation of motoneurone pools in alternating bursts. Cords removed from treated embryos behaved similarly to cords in which these drugs were applied acutely in the bath. Minor changes in muscle activation patterns that occurred with chronic drug treatment were also observed in acutely treated cords and appear to be a direct and persistent effect of the drugs on cord circuits. It is possible to conclude that cholinergic circuits within the chick lumbar cord play a role in the normal patterned activation of flexor and extensor motoneurone pools. Systemically applied drugs can have access to these circuits, indicating a need for caution when interpreting the results of drugs applied in this manner to developing embryos. We also conclude that neither the activation of motoneurones in patterned bursts, nor the afferent feed-back from the movements that result, are required to form the basic spinal cord circuits responsible for the activation of extensor and flexor motoneurone pools in alternating bursts.

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