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J Neurobiol. 1996 Feb;29(2):165-82.

The developing avian retina expresses agrin isoforms during synaptogenesis.

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Department of Neuroanatomy, Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany.


The localization, isoform pattern, and mRNA distribution of the synapse-organizing molecule agrin was investigated in the developing avian retina. Injection of anti-agrin Fab fragments into the vitreous humor of chick eyes of embryonic days 3 to 20, a procedure that labels only extracellular agrin, reveals staining in the inner and outer plexiform layers before, during, and after the period of synapse formation. The labeling in these layers changes from a diffuse to a punctate pattern at the time when synapses form. At all stages investigated, the inner limiting membrane (a basal lamina that separates vitreous from neural retina) is intensely labeled, as are the axonal processes of retinal ganglion cells in the optic fiber layer and in the optic nerve, although the staining intensity declines after embryonic day 10 in both retina and optic nerve. In culture, axons of retinal ganglion cells also express agrin-like immunoreactivity on their surfaces. Polymerase chain reaction analysis reveals that several different agrin isoforms are expressed in the developing neural retina. In situ hybridization studies show that agrin isoforms are expressed in the ganglion cell and inner nuclear layers, correlating well with the staining for agrin protein in the optic fiber and plexiform layers. The expression of mRNA coding for several agrin isoforms and the presence of extracellular agrin in the synapse-containing layers during the period of synapse formation is consistent with the idea that agrin isoforms might play a role during synapse formation in the central nervous system.

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