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Brain Res. 1994 Apr 11;642(1-2):185-98.

The structural and functional development of muscle spindles and their connections in fetal sheep.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic., Australia.


In this paper we have studied the structural and functional development of hindlimb muscle receptors and the connections of their afferent fibres in fetal sheep (n = 26) from 67-143 days of gestation (term = 146 days). By recording extracellular discharges in dorsal root ganglia (L7, S1) we have shown that muscle spindle afferents first respond to a ramp-and-hold stretch at mid-gestation (approximately 75 days). Silver-stained preparations of muscle spindles revealed that afferent fibres are just beginning to form annulospiral windings at this age. It therefore appears that the annulospiral formation is not a necessary requirement for the generation of the response. By 87-92 days some receptors had developed a discharge at resting muscle length. Discharges were generally more robust and easier to elicit and static and dynamic components could be identified in the response to stretch. Although static sensitivity was generally low it was more evident than dynamic sensitivity. By 107-115 days it was possible to clearly distinguish between muscle and tendon afferents and to tentatively classify muscle responses as originating from primary or secondary afferent spindle endings. With increasing gestational age there was a progressive increase in the length and complexity of the spindle innervation in parallel with the maturation of functional activity. Biocytin injections into the dorsal root ganglia revealed afferent projections to the motoneuron pools by 67 days. Silver-staining of muscles showed that innervation of extrafusal fibres was also present by this age. We therefore conclude that the neural pathways necessary for reflex activity involving muscle spindles are present and functional from early in gestation and could contribute to early fetal movements.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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