Specificity of early motoneuron growth cone outgrowth in the chick embryo

K. W. Tosney, L. T. Landmesser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


During development, chick lumbosacral motoneurons have been reported to form precise topographic projections within the limb from the time of initial outgrowth. This observation implies, first, that motoneurons select the appropriate muscle nerve pathway and, second, that they restrict their ramification within the primary uncleaved muscle masses to appropriate regions. Several reports based on electrophysiology and orthograde horseradish peroxidase (HRP) labeling have shown muscle nerve pathway selection to be fairly precise. However, studies based on retrograde labeling with HRP have produced conflicting reports on the extent to which verterbrate motoneurons make projection errors. Since it is difficult to distinguish between true projection errors and HRP leakage when using retrograde labeling, we decided to assess the distribution of labeled growth cones in 25-μm serial plastic sections, following orthograde labeling of identifiable subpopulations of motoneurons during the period of initial axon outgrowth. Examination of a large number of muscle nerves revealed no segmentally inappropriate axons, confirming earlier reports that muscle nerve pathway selection is very accurate. In addition, we observed that growth cones take widely divergent trajectories into the same muscle nerve, suggesting that growth cones are responding independently to some specific environmental cue rather than being passively channeled at this point. The distribution of labeled growth cones within the muscle masses provided direct evidence that motoneurons did not at any time project to obviously inappropriate muscle regions. In fact, motoneuron growth cones remained together as a compact nerve in the central region of their target muscle and only ramified widely within the muscle primordium after the completion of muscle cleavage and the onset of motoneuron cell death, a delay of several days. We conclude that if projection errors occur, they must be of a minor spatial extent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2336-2344
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Specificity of early motoneuron growth cone outgrowth in the chick embryo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this