The formation of topographical maps in developing rat gastrocnemius muscle during synapse elimination

J Physiol. 1988 Feb;396:471-96. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1988.sp016973.


1. The rat lateral gastrocnemius muscle (LG) is a complex of four muscle compartments, each defined in terms of its unique innervation by a single primary nerve branch of the muscle nerve. A study has been made of the topographical distribution of motor units in the medial compartment of the LG (LGM) both before and after the loss of polyneuronal innervation that accompanies development. 2. Glycogen depletion methods showed that the distribution of single motor units depended on the rostro-caudal origins of their axons in the spinal cord: rostral axons possessed motor units almost exclusively confined to the medial half of the LGM; intermediate axons possessed motor units primarily in the intermediate and lateral part of the LGM; caudal axons possessed motor units that were not restricted to any particular part of the LGM. 3. Myosin ATPase staining showed that about 80% of the LGM consists of type II A fibres, whilst the remainder are type II B. Physiological determination of the contractile properties of motor units indicated two classes of units: those that were relatively fatigue resistant and did not show a sag property (like fast-twitch, fatigue-resistant fibres or FR) and those that were relatively fatigable and did show a sag property (like fast-twitch, fatigable fibres or FF). 4. Glycogen depletion was also used to determine the distribution of motor units in the LGM at 7 days post-natal, when most fibres still receive a polyneuronal innervation. The LGM primary nerve branch innervated a confined sub-volume of muscle fibres which is similar to the mature pattern. However, rostral axons possessed motor units that extended into the lateral half of the LGM, a position from which they are excluded in the adult. 5. These observations suggest that the axons of rostral and intermediate units form a topographical map within adult FR motor units (type II A fibres) in the LGM. The results suggest that competition between axon terminals for synaptic sites plays a role in the elimination of inappropriately positioned terminals and subsequent emergence of the topographical map.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axons / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscles / cytology
  • Muscles / innervation*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Synapses / physiology*