Evidence for shifting connections during development of the chick retinotectal projection

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The pattern in which optic axons invade the tectum and begin synaptogenesis was studied in the chick. The anterogradely transported marker, horseradish peroxidase, was injected into one eye of embryos between 5 and 16 days of development (E5 to E16). This labeled the optic axons in the brain. The first retinal axons arrived in the most superficial lamina of the tectum on E6. They entered the tectum at the rostroventral margin. During the next 6 days of development the axons grew over the tectal surface. First they filled the rostral tectum, the oldest portion of the tectum, and then they spread to the caudal pole. Shortly after the first axons entered the tectum on E6, labeled retinal axons were found penetrating from the surface into deeper tectal layers. In any given area of the tectum, optic axons were seen penetrating deeper layers shortly after arriving in that area. Electron microscopic examination showed that at least some of the labeled axons in rostral tectum formed synapses with tectal cells by E7. These results show two things which contrast with results from previous studies. First, there is no delay between the time the retinal axons enter the tectum and the time they penetrate into synaptic layers of the tectum. Second, the first retinotectal connections are formed in rostral tectum and not central tectum. Retrograde tracing showed the first optic axons that arrived in the tectum were from ganglion cells in central retina. Previous studies have shown that the ganglion cells of central retina project to the central tectum in the mature chick. This opens the possibility that the optic axons from central retina, which connect to rostral tectum in the young embryo, shift their connections to central tectum during subsequent development. As they enter the tectum the growth cone of retinal axons appear to be associated with the external limiting membrane. During the time that connections would begin to shift in the tectum a second population of axons appears at the bottom of stratum opticum, some with characteristics of growth cone. This late-appearing population may represent axons shifting their connections. These results have implications for theories on how the retinotopic pattern of retinotectal connections develops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2570-2580
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes


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