We have investigated the development of autonomic nerves in the urogenital tract of male mice and the effect of neurturin gene deletion on this process. At birth, autonomic innervation of the reproductive organs was sparse, but urinary bladder smooth muscle was well innervated. Further innervation of reproductive tissues occurred until P21, but noradrenergic axons established their complete terminal field later than nitrergic cholinergic axons: in adults the former are more prevalent, yet this became apparent only at P7 (vas deferens, seminal vesicles), P14 (prostate) or after P14 (penis). Neurturin was essential for initial projection of axons (mucosa of vas deferens), maintenance of terminal fields (prostate and seminal vesicles), or both functions (cavernosum of penis). In contrast, some targets (e.g., bladder muscle and suburothelium, vas deferens smooth muscle) were unaffected by neurturin gene deletion. Pelvic ganglion neurons more than doubled between birth and adulthood, probably as aresult of continued maturation of p75-positive undifferentiated neuronal precursors rather than cell division. The adult number of neurons was achieved by P7 (sympathetic) or P21 (parasympathetic). In adult neurturin knockout mice, there were approximately 25% fewer parasympathetic neurons compared with wild types, because of failure of differentiation after P14. This study revealed the complexity of postnatal maturation of urogenital innervation, with each organ showing a distinct chronology of innervation and different requirement for neurturin. Our results also indicate that in adults there will be distinct differences in neurturin dependence between organs, such that proregenerative therapies may have to be tailored specifically for the nerve pathway of interest.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.