J. Comp. Neurol. 342: 457-68 (1994)

Morphogenesis of catecholaminergic interneurons in the frog spinal cord.

R. D. Heathcote & A. Chen

During embryonic and larval development of the frog Xenopus laevis, a bilateral population of cerebrospinal fluid-contacting neurons matures in the ventral spinal cord. These cells are catecholaminergic and form a dispersed or nonrandom pattern of spacing within each of their spinal cord columns. In order to test the mechanisms underlying pattern formation of these neurons, it is first necessary to understand their normal morphogenesis. Morphogenetic changes were examined by using immunocytochemistry for tyrosine hydroxylase as a cell marker. Immunoreactivity in spinal cord cells was detected as early as 1.4 d (stage 28) of embryonic development. Subsequently these cells underwent changes in shape and rapid, regressive changes in cell size. The population emerges gradually during development, but the major characteristic of nonrandom spacing, their dispersion from other catecholaminergic cells, is apparent at early stages of differentiation. Increases in cell density occur over an extended period of time and can be divided into an initial phase of large, rapid changes and a subsequent plateau phase of gradual changes. The two longitudinal columns of catecholaminergic cells that are characteristic of older animals become apparent just before hatching, when density increases until cells on both sides of the midline are present in the same region. Although the dispersed pattern exists within each column, cross correlation analysis shows that there is a random relationship between cells in opposite columns. During larval development, the catecholaminergic cell domain expands in both a rostral and caudal direction. The morphogenetic changes of the catecholaminergic cell population begin to show how the cells become partitioned within the floor plate region of the spinal cord.