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J Physiol. 1980 May;302:581-602.

Motoneurone projection patterns in the chick hind limb following early partial reversals of the spinal cord.


1. The development of motoneurone projection patterns in the chick hind limb from reversed spinal cord segments was studied from the onset of axonal outgrowth (St. 24) to the establishment of mature connectivity patterns (St. 36). Approximately the first three lumbosacral cord segments were reversed along the anterior-posterior axis at St. 15-16. 2. Projection patterns from reversed cord segments were assessed electrophysiologically by direct spinal cord and spinal nerve stimulation and anatomically by retrograde horseradish peroxidase (HRP) labelling of motoneurones in St. 30-36 embryos. In younger embryos, paths taken by reversed axons were characterized by orthograde HRP labelling of motoneurones in specific reversed cord segments. 3. Lumbosacral motoneurones formed appropriate functional connexions with individual limb muscles in spite of anterior-posterior shifts in their spinal cord position aned consequent shifts in their spinal nerve entry point into the limb bud. Reversed motoneurones supplying individual hind limb muscles formed discrete nuclei in the transverse plane of the cord. Each nucleus and the lateral motor column as a whole showed reversed topographical characteristics when compared to control embryos. These observations were made before (St. 30) and after (St. 35-36) the major period of motoneurone cell death. 4. Correct connectivity resulted from specific alterations in axonal pathways within the plexus or major nerve trunks proximal to the branching of individual muscle nerves. Further such directed outgrowth was present from the earliest times that axons could be traced into the limb which is before the onset of motoneurone cell death and muscle cleavage. 5. It is concluded that motoneurones are specified to project to individual muscles or to follow particular pathways prior to motoneurone birthdays and limb bud formation. The establishment of specific motoneurone connectivity can not be accounted for by passive or mechanical guidance models alone. Rather, motoneurones must also actively respond to cues within the limb or interact among themselves on the basis of an early central specification.

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