Hypoglossal motor neurons (XII MNs) innervate tongue muscles important in breathing, suckling and vocalization. Morphological properties of 103 XII MNs were studied using Neurobiotin™ filling in transverse brainstem slices from C57/Bl6 mice (n = 34) from embryonic day (E) 17 to postnatal day (P) 28. XII MNs from areas thought to innervate different tongue muscles showed similar morphology in most, but not all, features. Morphological properties of XII MNs were established prior to birth, not differing between E17-18 and P0. MN somatic volume gradually increased for the first 2 weeks post-birth. The complexity of dendritic branching and dendrite length of XII MNs increased throughout development (E17-P28). MNs in the ventromedial XII motor nucleus, likely to innervate the genioglossus, frequently (42 %) had dendrites crossing to the contralateral side at all ages, but their number declined with postnatal development. Unexpectedly, putative dendritic spines were found in all XII MNs at all ages, and were primarily localized to XII MN somata and primary dendrites at E18-P4, increased in distal dendrites by P5-P8, and were later predominantly found in distal dendrites. Dye-coupling between XII MNs was common from E18 to P7, but declined strongly with maturation after P7. Axon collaterals were found in 20 % (6 of 28) of XII MNs with filled axons; collaterals terminated widely outside and, in one case, within the XII motor nucleus. These results reveal new morphological features of mouse XII MNs, and suggest that dendritic projection patterns, spine density and distribution, and dye-coupling patterns show specific developmental changes in mice.
Keywords: Axon collateral; Dendritic morphology; Dye-coupling; Postnatal development; Respiration; Spine.