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Nature. 1986 Mar 20-26;320(6059):266-9.

Homing behaviour of axons in the embryonic vertebrate brain.


In embryonic nervous systems, growing axons must often travel long distances through diverse extracellular terrains to reach their postsynaptic partners. In most embryos, axons grow to their appropriate targets along particular tracts or nerves, as though they were following guidance cues confined to specific pathways. For example, in all vertebrates, axons from the retina invariably grow to the tectum along the well-defined optic tract. Yet, transplant experiments demonstrate that retinal axons make tectal projections even though they enter the brain at locations which are distinctly off the optic tract. Only recently has it become possible to label discreet growing projections in the embryonic vertebrate brain. Thus, it is not yet known whether displaced retinal axons grow directly towards the tectum or find it accidently, through random extension. To resolve this question, pioneering axons from normal and transplanted eyes in embryonic Xenopus were labelled using a short-survival horseradish peroxidase (HRP) method, and their orientation during growth was quantitatively assessed. The finding that the ectopic fibres head towards their distant targets implies that guidance cues are not restricted to specific pathways but are distributed throughout the embryonic brain. The significance of this result is discussed with respect to the ontogeny and evolution of the visual pathway.

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