The initial pattern of corticospinal (CS) terminations, as axons grow into the spinal gray matter, bears little resemblance to the pattern later in development and in maturity. This is because of extensive axon pruning and local axon terminal growth during early postnatal development. Pruning is driven by activity-dependent competition between the CS systems on each side during postnatal weeks (PW) 3-7. It is not known whether CS axon terminal growth and final topography are activity dependent. We examined the activity dependence of CS axon terminal growth and topography at different postnatal times. We inactivated sensory-motor cortex by infusion of the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA(A)) agonist muscimol and traced CS axons from the inactivated side. Inactivation between PW5 and PW7 produced permanent changes in projection topography, reduced local axon branching, and prevented development of dense clusters of presynaptic sites, which are normally characteristic of CS terminals. Inactivation at younger (PW3-5) and older (PW8-12) ages did not affect projection topography but impeded development of local axon branching and presynaptic site clusters. These effects were not due to increased cortical cell death during inactivation. Neural activity plays an important role in determining the morphology of CS terminals during the entire period of development, but, for the projection topography, the role of activity is exercised during a very brief period. This points to a complex, and possibly independent, regulation of termination topography and terminal morphology. Surprisingly, when a CS neuron's activity is blocked during early development, it does not recover lost connections later in development once activity resumes.
Copyright (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.