The location of neurons early in development can be critical for their ability to differentiate and receive normal synaptic inputs. Indeed, disruptions in neuronal positioning lead to a variety of neurological disorders. Neurons have, however, shifted their positions across phylogeny, suggesting that changes in location do not always spell functional disaster. To investigate the functional consequences of abnormal positioning, we leveraged previously reported genetic perturbations to disrupt normal neuronal migration-and thus positioning-in a population of cranial motor neurons, the facial branchiomotor neurons (FBMNs). We used a combination of topographical, morphological, physiological, and behavioral analyses to determine whether key functional features of FBMNs were still established in migration mutants, in spite of a dramatic rostrocaudal repositioning of these neurons in hindbrain. We discovered that FBMNs seem remarkably resilient to a disruption in positioning, suggesting that they may not rely heavily on rostrocaudal positioning to guide their functional development. Thus, the role of positioning may vary across the developing nervous system, with some populations-like facial motor neurons-exhibiting greater resilience to abnormal positioning that permits them to shift location as a part of evolutionary change.
Keywords: hindbrain; motor neurons; neural circuits; neural development; neuronal migration; robustness; zebrafish.
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