Most granule neurons in the rat dentate gyrus are born over the course of the first 2 postnatal weeks. The resulting heterogeneity has made it difficult to define the relationship between dendritic and axonal maturation and to delineate a time course for the morphological development of the oldest granule neurons. By depositing crystals of the fluorescent label Dil in hippocampal field CA3, we retrogradely labeled granule neurons in fixed tissue slices from rats aged 2-9 days. The results showed that all labeled granule cells, regardless of the age of the animal, exhibited apical dendrites. On day 2, every labeled neuron had rudimentary apical dendrites, and a few dendrites on each cell displayed immature features such as growth cones, varicosities, and filopodia. Some cells displayed basal dendrites. By day 4, the most mature granule neurons had longer and more numerous apical branches, as well as various immature features. Most had basal dendrites. On days 5 and 6, the immature features and the basal dendrites had begun to regress on the oldest cells, and varying numbers of spines were present. On day 7, the first few adult-like neurons were seen: immature features and basal dendrites had disappeared, all dendrites reached the top of the molecular layer, and the entire dendritic tree was covered with spines. These data show that dendritic outgrowth occurs before, or concurrent with, axon arrival in the CA3 target region, and that adult-like granule neurons are present by the end of the first week.
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