The development of local, layer-specific visual cortical axons in the absence of extrinsic influences and intrinsic activity

J Neurosci. 1998 Jun 1;18(11):4145-54. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-11-04145.1998.


The laminar specificity of vertical connections in the primary visual cortex (area 17) develops precisely from the outset, leading to the hypothesis that layer-specific axonal targeting is attributable to molecular cues intrinsic to the cortex (Lund et al., 1977; Katz and Callaway, 1992). However, alternative factors that could influence axonal development have not been investigated. This study examines the roles of intrinsic cortical activity and extrinsic influences that could arise from earlier-formed connections with outside cortical and subcortical areas. Organotypic slice cultures were prepared from ferret area 17 before the formation of local axonal connections and were incubated for 5-7 d to allow initial, local axonal arbors to form in the absence of extrinsic influences. Additionally, some slices were cultured in the presence of the Na+ channel blocker tetrodotoxin to block spontaneous action potentials within the slice. Individual neurons were labeled intracellularly with biocytin, and their patterns of local axonal arborizations were reconstructed. This study focuses on the development of layer 6 pyramidal neurons, the axons of which in vivo bypass an incorrect target, layer 5, before specifically arborizing in their local target, layer 4. We found that axonal arbors developing in vitro preferentially arborized in layer 4 versus layer 5. However, inhibition of spontaneous activity within the cortical slice decreased this specificity, resulting in similar numbers of axonal branches in layers 4 and 5. Thus, although cortical axons do not require influences from outside areas, intrinsic spontaneous activity is required for specific axonal arborization in correct laminar targets.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / chemistry
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ferrets
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Pyramidal Cells / chemistry
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Sodium Channel Blockers
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*
  • Visual Cortex / growth & development*


  • Sodium Channel Blockers
  • Tetrodotoxin