The evolutionary origin of novelties is a central problem in biology. At a cellular level this requires, for example, molecularly resolving how brainstem motor neurons change their innervation target from muscle fibers (branchial motor neurons) to neural crest-derived ganglia (visceral motor neurons) or ear-derived hair cells (inner ear and lateral line efferent neurons). Transplantation of various tissues into the path of motor neuron axons could determine the ability of any motor neuron to innervate a novel target. Several tissues that receive direct, indirect, or no motor innervation were transplanted into the path of different motor neuron populations in Xenopus laevis embryos. Ears, somites, hearts, and lungs were transplanted to the orbit, replacing the eye. Jaw and eye muscle were transplanted to the trunk, replacing a somite. Applications of lipophilic dyes and immunohistochemistry to reveal motor neuron axon terminals were used. The ear, but not somite-derived muscle, heart, or liver, received motor neuron axons via the oculomotor or trochlear nerves. Somite-derived muscle tissue was innervated, likely by the hypoglossal nerve, when replacing the ear. In contrast to our previous report on ear innervation by spinal motor neurons, none of the tissues (eye or jaw muscle) was innervated when transplanted to the trunk. Taken together, these results suggest that there is some plasticity inherent to motor innervation, but not every motor neuron can become an efferent to any target that normally receives motor input. The only tissue among our samples that can be innervated by all motor neurons tested is the ear. We suggest some possible, testable molecular suggestions for this apparent uniqueness. © 2013 Elliott et al.
Elliott, K. L., Houston, D. W., & Fritzsch, B. (2013). Transplantation of Xenopus laevis Tissues to Determine the Ability of Motor Neurons to Acquire a Novel Target. PLoS ONE, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055541