Expression of the calcium binding protein parvalbumin (PV) by different classes of spinal neuron has been shown to be developmentally regulated in both rat and monkey. From postmortem studies of eight human cervical spinal cords ranging in age from 11 to 35 weeks postconceptional age, we report that parvalbumin immunoreactivity is similarly plastic in human lower cervical spinal cord development, with many changes occurring prenatally. At 11-14 weeks postconceptional age, there was prominent immunostaining of primary sensory afferents that could be seen coursing through the dorsal horn and extensively innervating the motoneuron pools. Motoneurons were also found to be clearly immunoreactive for choline acetyltransferase by this age. A few ventral horn neurons that were not motoneurons were also parvalbumin immunoreactive. By 24-27 weeks postconceptional age, sensory afferents were still immunoreactive, as were many other axons throughout the white matter. In addition, many ventral horn neurons were now immunoreactive as well as a few dorsal horn neurons. By 31-35 weeks postconceptional age, there was extensive immunostaining of neurons throughout the spinal cord, including a few moderately immunoreactive motoneurons. There were many immunopositive axons in all the white matter tracts except the corticospinal tracts; however, staining of sensory axons traversing the grey matter was less prominent by this age. In the rat, expression of PV by primary sensory neurons coincides with the onset of fetal limb movement. The onset of expression of PV in ventral horn neurons coincides with later developmental events after the arrival of corticospinal inputs, whereas widespread PV immunoreactivity in dorsal horn neurons marks the attainment of a mature pattern of PV expression. The extent to which expression of PV immunoreactivity can be taken to indicate landmarks in human development will be discussed.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.