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Dev Biol. 1986 Dec;118(2):511-31.

Altered sensory projections in the chick hind limb following the early removal of motoneurons.


Chick sensory neurons grow to their correct targets in the hindlimb from the outset during normal development and following various experimental manipulations. This may result not because sensory neurons respond to specific limb-derived cues, but because they interact in some way with motoneurons which are responsive to such cues. To test this possibility, we removed the ventral part of the neural tube, which contains motoneurons and their precursors, at stages 16 1/2-20 1/2 and later examined the pathways sensory neurons had taken within the limb. Muscle nerves generally were missing or were reduced in diameter beyond the extent expected simply from the absence of motoneuron axons. In many cases, cutaneous nerves were enlarged, presumably due to the addition of other sensory axons. This result suggests that, in the absence of motoneurons, sensory neurons that normally project to muscles are unable to do so and may instead project along cutaneous pathways. Sensory axons from different segments also crossed less extensively in the plexus region than they did in control embryos, suggesting that alterations in their trajectories may normally be facilitated by similar changes in motoneuron pathways. Thus, motoneurons greatly enhance sensory neuron growth to muscles and contribute significantly toward the achievement of the normal sensory projection pattern. Sensory axons may fasciculate with motoneuron axons, or motoneuron axons may provide an aligned substrate for sensory neurons to grow along. Alternatively, motoneuron axons may alter the environment, thereby making certain pathways in the limb permissive for sensory neuron growth.

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