Postnatal development of connectional specificity of corticospinal terminals in the cat

Qun Li, John H. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine postnatal development of connectional specificity of corticospinal terminals. We labeled a small population of primary motor cortex neurons with the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine. We reconstructed individual corticospinal segmental axon terminals in the spinal gray matter in cats of varying postnatal ages and adults. We found that at days 25 and 35 the segmental termination field of reconstructed axons was large, estimated to cover more than half of the contralateral gray matter. Branches and varicosities were sparse and had a relatively uniform distribution. When we examined the terminal fields of multiple axons, reconstructed over the same set of spinal sections (120-200 μm), we found that there was extensive overlap. By day 55, the morphology and termination fields had changed remarkably. There were many short branches, organized into discrete clusters, and varicosities were preferentially located within these clusters. The termination field of individual axons was substantially reduced compared with that of younger animals, and there was minimal overlap between the terminals of neighboring corticospinal neurons. In adults, a further reduction was seen in the spatial extent of terminals, branching, and varicosity density. Termination overlap was not substantially different from that in PD 55 animals. Development of spatially restricted clusters of short terminal branches and dense axonal varicosities occurred just prior to development of the motor map in primary motor cortex and may be necessary for ensuring that the corticospinal system can exert a dominant influence on skilled limb movement control in maturity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-71
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Axon branching
  • Axon varicosity
  • Corticospinal tract
  • Motor cortex
  • Pyramidal tract
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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