Modification of retinal ganglion cell axon morphology by prenatal infusion of tetrodotoxin

Nature. 1988 Dec 1;336(6198):468-71. doi: 10.1038/336468a0.


The cellular mechanisms by which the axons of individual neurons achieve their precise terminal branching patterns are poorly understood. In the visual system of adult cats, retinal ganglion cell axons from each eye form narrow cylindrical terminal arborizations restricted to alternate non-overlapping layers within the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). During prenatal development, axon arborizations from the two eyes are initially simple in shape and are intermixed with each other; they then gradually segregate to form complex adult-like arborizations in separate eye-specific layers by birth. Here we report that ganglion cell axons exposed to tetrodotoxin (TTX) to block neuronal activity during fetal life fail to form the normal pattern of terminal arborization. Individual TTX-treated axon arborizations are not stunted in their growth, but instead produce abnormally widespread terminal arborizations which extend across the equivalent of approximately two eye-specific layers. These observations suggest that during fetal development of the central nervous system, the formation of morphologically appropriate and correctly located axon terminal arborizations within targets is brought about by an activity-dependent process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport / drug effects
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Cats
  • Female
  • Geniculate Bodies / drug effects
  • Geniculate Bodies / embryology*
  • Geniculate Bodies / ultrastructure
  • Gestational Age
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Pregnancy
  • Retina / ultrastructure*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / drug effects
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology*


  • Tetrodotoxin