Developmental sculpting of dendritic morphology of layer 4 neurons in visual cortex: influence of retinal input

J Neurosci. 2011 May 18;31(20):7456-70. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5222-10.2011.


Dendritic morphology determines the kinds of input a neuron receives, having a profound impact on neural information processing. In the mammalian cerebral cortex, excitatory neurons have been ascribed to one of two main dendritic morphologies, either pyramidal or stellate, which differ mainly on the extent of the apical dendrite. Developmental mechanisms regulating the emergence and refinement of dendritic morphologies have been studied for cortical pyramidal neurons, but little is known for spiny stellate neurons. Using biolistics to label single cells on acute brain slices of the ferret primary visual cortex, we show that neurons in layer 4 develop in a two-step process: initially, all neurons appear pyramidal, growing a prominent apical dendrite and few small basal dendrites. Later, a majority of these neurons show a change in the relative extent of basal and apical dendrites that results in a gradual sculpting into a stellate morphology. We also find that ∼ 22% of neurons maintain the proportionality of their dendritic arbors, remaining as pyramidal cells at maturity. When ferrets were deprived of retinal input at early stages of postnatal development by binocular enucleation, a significant proportion of layer 4 spiny neurons failed to remodel their apical dendrites, and ∼ 55% remained as pyramidal neurons. Our results demonstrate that cortical spiny stellate neurons emerge by differential sculpting of the dendritic arborizations of an initial pyramidal morphology and that sensory input plays a fundamental role in this process.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites* / physiology
  • Female
  • Ferrets
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / embryology
  • Retina / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*
  • Visual Cortex / embryology
  • Visual Cortex / growth & development*
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / embryology
  • Visual Pathways / growth & development