Generation patterns of four groups of cholinergic neurons in rat cervical spinal cord: a combined tritiated thymidine autoradiographic and choline acetyltransferase immunocytochemical study

J Comp Neurol. 1988 Jul 22;273(4):459-72. doi: 10.1002/cne.902730403.


This report examines the generation of cholinergic neurons in the spinal cord in order to determine whether the transmitter phenotype of neurons is associated with specific patterns of neurogenesis. Previous immunocytochemical studies identified four groups of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-positive neurons in the cervical enlargement of the rat spinal cord. These cell groups vary in both somatic size and location along the previously described ventrodorsal neurogenic gradient of the spinal cord. Thus, large (and small) motoneurons are located in the ventral horn, medium-sized partition cells are found in the intermediate gray matter, small central canal cluster cells are situated within lamina X, and small dorsal horn neurons are scattered predominantly through laminae III-V. The relationships among the birthdays of these four subsets of cholinergic neurons have been examined by combining 3H-thymidine autoradiography and ChAT immunocytochemistry. Embryonic day 11 was the earliest time that neurons were generated within the cervical enlargement. Large and small ChAT-positive motoneurons were produced on E11 and 12, with 70% of both groups being born on E11. ChAT-positive partition cells were produced between E11 and 13, with their peak generation occurring on E12. Approximately 70% of the cholinergic central canal cluster and dorsal horn cells were born on E13, and the remainder of each of these groups was generated on E14. Other investigators have shown that all neurons within the rat cervical spinal cord are produced in a ventrodorsal sequence between E11 and E16. In contrast, ChAT-positive neurons are born only from E11 to E14 and are among the earliest cells generated in the ventral, intermediate, and dorsal subdivisions of the spinal cord. However, all cholinergic neurons are not generated simultaneously; rather their birthdays are correlated with their positions along the ventrodorsal gradient of neurogenesis. The fact that large motoneurons and medium-sized partition cells are born before small central canal cluster and dorsal horn cells would appear to support the generalization that large neurons are generated before small ones. However, the location of spinal cholinergic neurons within the neurogenic gradient seems to be more importantly associated with the time of cell generation than somal size. For example, when large and small motoneurons located at the same dorsoventral spinal level are compared, both sizes of cells are generated at the same time and in similar proportions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • DNA Replication*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / embryology*
  • Spinal Cord / enzymology
  • Thymidine / metabolism
  • Tritium


  • Tritium
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Thymidine