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Initial stages of retinofugal axon development in the hamster: evidence for two distinct modes of growth

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In order to characterize differences in growth patterns of axons as they elongate toward their targets and during the initial stages of terminal arbor formation within the targets, we examined the primary visual system of fetal and newborn hamsters using three morphological methods: the Cajal-deCastro reduced silver method, the rapid Golgi technique, and anterograde transport of HRP. Axons emerge from the retina between the 10th and 11th embryonic days (E10–E11). The front of retinal axons crosses the chiasm, extends over the primitive dorsal nucleus of the lateral geniculate body (LGBd) by E13, and advances to the back of the superior colliculus (SC) by E13.5–E14. The rate of axon growth during this advance is nearly 2 mm/day. Collateral sprouts appear on axons around E15.5. In the LGBd and SC, these sprouts arise from multiple sites along the parent axons. Only one or a few of the sprouts continue to grow and branch, while others are eliminated. The net rate of axon collateral advance in this second phase is an order of magnitude slower than during the stage of axon elongation. Thus, formation of CNS projections may involve two qualitatively distinct modes of axon growth. The arborization mode contrasts with the elongation mode by the presence of branching, a lack of fasciculation and a slower average rate of extension. The Stereotypic direct advance of axons during elongation also differs from the remodelling which occurs during arborization. The delay between axon arrival at targets and onset of arborization could be a reflection of axons “waiting” for a maturational change to occur in the retina or in targets. Arborization in the LGBd and SC is initiated around the same time, implicating the former possibility. However, a slower differentiation of retinal arbors in the SC, in addition to morphological differences of arbors in the two structures, suggests that alterations in substrate factors also play a critical role in triggering the early stages of arbor formation.

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Jhaveri, S., Edwards, M.A. & Schneider, G.E. Initial stages of retinofugal axon development in the hamster: evidence for two distinct modes of growth. Exp Brain Res 87, 371–382 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00231854

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Key words

  • Visual system
  • Optic tract
  • Axon elongation
  • Axon arborization
  • Growth rates