In the adult mammalian hippocampus, newborn dentate granule cells are continuously integrated into the existing circuitry and contribute to specific brain functions. Little is known about the axonal development of these newborn neurons in the adult brain due to technological challenges that have prohibited large-scale reconstruction of long, thin, and complex axonal processes within the mature nervous system. Here, using a new serial end-block imaging (SEBI) technique, we seamlessly reconstructed axonal and dendritic processes of intact individual retrovirus-labeled newborn granule cells at different developmental stages in the young adult mouse hippocampus. We found that adult-born dentate granule cells exhibit tortuous, yet highly stereotyped, axonal projections to CA3 hippocampal subregions. Primary axonal projections of cohorts of new neurons born around the same time organize into laminar patterns with staggered terminations that stack along the septo-temporal hippocampal axis. Analysis of individual newborn neuron development further defined an initial phase of rapid axonal and dendritic growth within 21 d after newborn neuron birth, followed by minimal growth of primary axonal and whole dendritic processes through the last time point examined at 77 d. Our results suggest that axonal development and targeting is a highly orchestrated, precise process in the adult brain. These findings demonstrate a striking regenerative capacity of the mature CNS to support long-distance growth and guidance of neuronal axons. Our SEBI approach can be broadly applied for analysis of intact, complex neuronal projections in limitless tissue volume.
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