This study analyzes the morphological changes in geniculocortical axons terminating in the primary visual cortex of the cat, during the period in which, in normal development, the terminals in layer IV undergo an eye-specific segregation. Geniculocortical afferent fibers were filled anterogradely by the Phaseolus lectin (PHA-L) injected into the main laminae of the LGN. After standard immunohistochemical procedures, single axons were serially reconstructed in two or three dimensions. Experiments were performed in normal kittens and in kittens in which retinal activity was continuously blocked by repeated intraocular injections of TTX. In normal kittens, arbors were reconstructed at four different ages (19, 23, 30-31, and 39 days postnatally) spanning the period during which the geniculocortical projection segregates into eye-specific columns in layer IV (LeVay et al., 1978). Results reveal that sparse but widely extending branches characteristic of young arbors are eliminated during normal development at the same time as selected portions of the arbor grow considerably in length and complexity. The terminal arborizations also subdivide into distinct patches of terminals, consistent with the segregation of left and right eye afferents. In TTX-treated animals, axonal arbors reconstructed at postnatal days 23, 29, and 39 show a complexity and extent of terminal arborization similar to that of normal animals, though more variable in size and degree of elaboration. No progressive changes are evident with age. Further, the majority of arbors reconstructed from TTX-treated animals lack the patchy organization typical of normal animals.
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