Fetal NGF augmentation preserves excess trigeminal ganglion cells and interrupts whisker-related pattern formation

Theodore A. Henderson, Eugene M. Johnson, Patricia A. Osborne, Mark F. Jacquin

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In the developing nervous system, precisely patterned connections result from mechanisms that remodel initially diffuse connections. For example, ocular dominance column formation depends upon activity-based competitive interactions. In the developing trigeminal (V) somatosensory system, injury to afferent inputs prevents somatotopic pattern formation; however, afferent impulse blockade not. What establishes central V patterns remains unclear. As a first step in assessing the role of neurotrophins in naturally occurring death of V ganglion cells and whisker-related pattern formation, the consequences of prenatal NGF injections were evaluated. Fetal rats given NGF on both embryonic day (E) 15 and E18 had 36% more V ganglion cells than normal and lacked whisker-related patterns in the V brainstem complex at birth and through postnatal day 3, as determined by cytochrome oxidase histochemistry. Rats injected with NGF on E16 or on E18, or with vehicle had normal ganglion cell numbers and brainstem patterns. Animals injected with antibodies to NGF or an NGF receptor had reduced ganglion cell numbers and normal brainstem patterns. These findings suggest that naturally occurring cell death in the V ganglion is neurotrophically regulated and that this process impacts upon somatotopic pattern formation in the V brainstem complex. Results of anterograde tracing experiments in NGF-augmented animals suggest that pattern disruptions are due to an absence of whisker-related patterning in the central projections of V ganglion cells. Moreover, single primary afferent collaterals labeled by Neurobiotin injections in the V ganglion did not have widespread or unusually complex arbors. Thus, NGF may affect V pattern formation by preserving or inducing projections to brainstem regions that normally come to lack such projections, such as the spaces normally demarcating neighboring whisker primary afferent projections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3389-3403
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5 II
StatePublished - May 1994


  • NGF
  • barrels
  • cell death
  • development
  • pattern formation
  • somatotopy
  • trigeminal
  • vibrissae


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