Mechanisms of Activity-Dependent Motoneuron Development and Survival in the Chick Embryo

  • Ronald W. Oppenheim


Neurons in the central and peripheral neurons system become capable of generating axon potentials, neurotransmitter release and synaptic transmission prior to their complete differentiation and in some cases this functional activity begins at remarkably early stages of embryogenesis (Provine, 1973; O’Donovan, 1999; Milner and Landmesser, 1999). Overtly this neuronal function is manifested as embryonic and fetal movements and reflexes that have been the focus of considerable research over the past century (Hamburger, 1963; Oppenheim, 1982; Gotttlieb, 1973; Michel and Moore, 1995). The developmentally early appearance of neuronal activity and behavior raises the obvious question of what adaptive role, if any, is served by prenatal neurobehavioral function. Early neural activity may be an epiphenomenon, in that it merely indicates that neuronal differentiation is proceeding normally. Alternatively, this early function may be a necessary feature of early nervous system organization acting to prepare the nervous system for its later role in mediating complex behavioral patterns (Crair, 1999). Finally, early neurobehavioral function may serve some immediate developmental function, a role I have previously called ontogenetic adaptations (Oppenheim, 1981; Hall and Oppenheim, 1986). For example, neuromuscular function and embryonic movements are known to play a role in the normal differentiation of skeletal muscles, synovial joints, lung differentiation and synapse formation between motorneurons and muscle. In the course of attempting to examine what role neuromuscular activity plays in the chick embryo, we discovered another apparent ontogenetic adaptation-like role for early neural function.


Chick Embryo Synapse Formation Motoneuron Survival Muscle Extract Developmental Psychobiology 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald W. Oppenheim
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the Neuroscience ProgramWake Forest University School of MedicineWinston-Salem

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