Selective collateral elimination in early postnatal development restricts cortical distribution of rat pyramidal tract neurones

Nature. 1982 Jul 22;298(5872):371-3. doi: 10.1038/298371a0.


The pyramidal tract, comprising those axons which pass from the neocortex to the medulla and spinal cord, is among the most thoroughly studied projections of the mammalian cortex. Recent studies using anterograde axon tracing techniques have provided information concerning the time course of the growth of pyramidal tract fibres, yet much remains to be learned about its development. We have now begun to study the distribution of the neurones of origin of the pyramidal tract during the postnatal development of the rat neocortex using the recently introduced retrogradely transported fluorescent marker, True blue. During the first postnatal week, injections of True blue into the pyramidal decussation result inthe labelling of pyramidal tract neurones which are distributed virtually throughout the tangential extent of layer V of the neocortex, whereas after comparable injections during the fourth postnatal week the distribution of such cells is much more restricted and remains restricted into adult life. This developmental restriction is most dramatic in the occipital cortex: during the first postnatal week many pyramidal tract neurones are found throughout the visual cortex while none is seen in this area of the adult. When True blue is injected into the pyramidal decussation during the first postnatal week and the animals are allowed to survive until the fourth postnatal week, the distribution of pyramidal tract neurones is as widespread as in the immediate postnatal period and includes the entire visual cortex. This implies that many of the neurones in the occipital cortex initially send a collateral into the pyramidal tract which is later eliminated, although the neurones themselves persist. These findings, together with similar recent observations on the development of the callosal connections, indicate that the elimination of axon collaterals may be a general feature of the development of cortical projection systems, and that such transitory collaterals may traverse considerable distances.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Neurons, Efferent / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Tracts / cytology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / growth & development*
  • Rats
  • Staining and Labeling