Trigeminal ganglion (TG) neurons innervate the grid-like array of whisker follicles on the face of the mouse. Central TG axons project to the trigeminal (V) brainstem nuclear complex, including the nucleus principalis (PrV) and the spinal subnucleus interpolaris (SpVi), where they innervate barrelettes that are organized in a pattern that recapitulates the whisker pattern on the face. Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) supports a population of TG cells that supply slowly adapting mechanoreceptors in the whisker pad. We examined mice at embryonic day 17 (E17) and on the day of birth (P0) with null mutations of NT-3, Bax, a proapoptotic gene associated with naturally occurring cell death, and Bax/NT-3 double knockout (KO) mutants to determine if: (1) the number of TG cells would be reduced; (2) eliminating the Bax gene would rescue the NT-3-dependent neurons; and (3) the central projections of the rescued axons in the Bax/NT-3 double KO mice would fail to develop the barrelette patterns in the PrV and SpVi subnuclei. In mice at E17, NT-3-/- mutants had 65% fewer TG neurons than found in age-matched wild-type (WT) mice, and at P0, the number was reduced by 55% (p<0.001 for both). Bax null mutant mice at E17 had 132% of the WT number of TG cells (p<0.001), although the numbers returned to WT levels by P0. Bax/NT-3 double KO mice at E17 had TG cell numbers equal to those seen in WT, but the double KO failed to retain WT TG neuron numbers in P0 mice (39% fewer cells; p<0.001). In all cases of reduced experimental neuron numbers, and in the E17 Bax-/- mice with supernumerary cells, the barrelette patterns in the PrV and SpVi were normal. Only a slight qualitative reduction in overall barrelette field area and clarity of barrelettes were seen. These results suggest that NT-3 is not necessary for barrelette pattern formation in the brainstem.
- Cell death