Visual activity refines developing retinotectal maps and shapes individual retinal arbors via an NMDA receptor-dependent mechanism. As retinal axons grow into tectum, they slow markedly and emit many transient side branches behind the tip, assuming a "bottlebrush" morphology. Some branches are stabilized and branch further, giving rise to a compact arbor. The dynamic rate of branch addition and deletion is increased twofold when MK801 is used to block NMDA receptors, as if this prevents release of a stabilizing signal such as arachidonic acid (AA) from the postsynaptic neuron. In optic tract, AA mediates NCAM and L1 stimulation of axon growth by activating presynaptic protein kinase C (PKC) to phosphorylate GAP-43 and stabilize F-actin, and, if present in tectum, this growth control pathway could be modulated by postsynaptic activation. To test for the effects on arbor morphology of blocking PKC or AA release, we examined DiO-labeled retinal axons of larval zebrafish with time-lapse videomicroscopy. Bath application of the selective PKC inhibitor bisindolylmaleimide from 2 or 3 days onward doubled the rate at which side branches were added and deleted, as seen with MK801, and also prevented maturation of the arbor so that it retained a "bottlebrush" morphology. In order to selectively block the PKC being transported to retinal terminals, we injected the irreversible inhibitor calphostin C into the eye from which the ganglion cells were labeled, and this produced both effects seen with bath application. In contrast, there were no effects of control injections, which included Ringers into the same eye and the same dose into the opposite eye (actually much closer to the tectum of interest), to rule out the possibility that the inhibitor leaked from the eye to act on tectal cells. For comparison, we examined arbors treated with the NMDA blocker MK801 at half-hour time-lapse intervals, and detected the twofold rise in rates of branch addition and deletion previously reported in Xenopus larvae, but not the structural effect seen with the PKC inhibitors. In addition, we could produce both effects seen with PKC inhibitors by using RHC80267 to block AA release from DAG lipase, indicating that AA is the main drive for PKC activation. Thus, the results show a distinct role of AA and presynaptic PKC in both maturation of arbor structure and in the dynamic control of branching. The effects on branch dynamics were present regardless of the level of maturity of arbor structure. The fact that they mimicked those of MK801 suggests that presynaptic PKC may be involved in the NMDA receptor-driven stabilization of developing retinal arbors.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 58: 328-340, 2004