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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1994 Nov 18;83(1):132-7.

Morphological specification of trigeminal neurites depends on target fields.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.


Primary sensory neurons bridge the sensory periphery to the central nervous system (CNS) via their two axonal processes. The morphological patterning of the terminals of each process in its respective target is unique. Whether the differences between peripheral and central axons result from an intrinsic developmental program of the ganglion cell body, or from target-derived signals is not known. To explore this issue, we have used an explant coculture system in which embryonic (E15) trigeminal ganglion explants were placed between a vibrissa pad and a brainstem explant, but the explants were rotated 180 degrees relative to their normal orientation. In other experiments, individual ganglia were placed between two vibrissa pad explants or between two slices taken through the brainstem. The cultures were fixed after several days and ganglion cell processes were labeled with the lipophilic tracer DiI. Results of the ganglion rotation experiments suggest that trigeminal axons which would be directed centrally in vivo can regenerate into peripheral targets, and peripheral axons can grow into CNS tissue. Similarly, in cocultures with two peripheral or two central targets, both processes of trigeminal ganglion cells can simultaneously invade vibrissa pad explants or project into brainstem slices. Moreover, in all cocultures the differentiation of each set of processes is specific to the target innervated by it. These results show that the axons of embryonic sensory neurons are not selective in their choice of targets, and that their morphological patterning is dictated by target-derived signals.

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