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J Neurosci. 1998 Oct 1;18(19):7930-40.

Interstitial branches develop from active regions of the axon demarcated by the primary growth cone during pausing behaviors.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Interstitial branches arise from the axon shaft, sometimes at great distances behind the primary growth cone. After a waiting period that can last for days after extension of the primary growth cone past the target, branches elongate toward their targets. Delayed interstitial branching is an important but little understood mechanism for target innervation in the developing CNS of vertebrates. One possible mechanism of collateral branch formation is that the axon shaft responds to target-derived signals independent of the primary growth cone. Another possibility is that the primary growth cone recognizes the target and demarcates specific regions of the axon for future branching. To address whether behaviors of the primary growth cone and development of interstitial branches are related, we performed high-resolution time-lapse imaging on dissociated sensorimotor cortical neurons that branch interstitially in vivo. Imaging of entire cortical neurons for periods of days revealed that the primary growth cone pauses in regions in which axon branches later develop. Pausing behaviors involve repeated cycles of collapse, retraction, and extension during which growth cones enlarge and reorganize. Remnants of reorganized growth cones are left behind on the axon shaft as active filopodial or lamellar protrusions, and axon branches subsequently emerge from these active regions of the axon shaft. In this study we propose a new model to account for target innervation in vivo by interstitial branching. Our model suggests that delayed interstitial branching results directly from target recognition by the primary growth cone.

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