Branching patterns of the rat phrenic nerve during development and reinnervation

Exp Neurol. 1991 Aug;113(2):212-20. doi: 10.1016/0014-4886(91)90177-e.


Previous studies have shown that the phrenic motor nucleus in the rat projects onto the diaphragm muscle, forming an orderly topographic map. Moreover, this topography is partially restored upon reinnervation. This orderly map is expressed prior to birth, suggesting that early contacts between nerve and muscle are topographically appropriate. The phrenic divides during embryonic development into rostral and caudal branches, and motor axons preferentially enter the appropriate branch. In an effort to understand the mechanisms that underlie the choices growing phrenic neurons make in selecting their appropriate muscle targets, we examined the patterns of branching displayed by the phrenic nerve during development and reinnervation. In all muscles studied the phrenic nerve splits into three primary branches, rostral, caudal, and crural. At a coarse level the pattern of branching of the phrenic is remarkably consistent from animal to animal and at all ages of development. At a finer level of resolution, however, there is an asymmetry between right and left hemidiaphragms. Moreover, the precise emergence of any particular branch is unpredictable, resulting in an overall incongruence in branching architecture from animal to animal. The hemidiaphragm muscle grows unevenly, particularly on the right side, resulting in greater muscle fiber elongation medially. Upon reinnervation, the same coarse pattern of branching is reestablished, but the higher order pattern is much simpler and muscle growth is slower than in controls. These results suggest that very early in development primary branches of the phrenic funnel axons into three well-defined zones in the muscle.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diaphragm / embryology
  • Diaphragm / innervation
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development*
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Phrenic Nerve / embryology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains