Bergmann, M.; Lahr, G.; Mayerhofer, Artur; Gratzl, Manfred (1991): Correlation with basic differentiation processes of neurons. In: Neuroscience, Vol. 42: S. 569-582




The development of the spinal cord involves the proliferation of neurons, their migration to well-defined areas, fiber outgrowth and synapse formation. The present study was designed to correlate the spatiotemporal pattern of expression of synaptophysin, an integral membrane protein of small synaptic vesicles, with these basic processes occurring during the embryonic development of the rat spinal cord. Thoracic segments of spinal cords from embryonic days 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and of adult spinal cords were studied. S1 nuclease protection assays and immunoblots revealed minute amounts of specific mRNA and synaptophysin at embryonic day 12. There was a steep increase of mRNA between embryonic days 14 and 16, after which levels reached a plateau. A rise in the amount of synaptophysin in the spinal cord occurred between embryonic days 12 and 14, and the levels changed only slightly until the end of embryonic development. Even higher levels of synaptophysin, found in the adult spinal cord, may indicate that its biosynthesis continued after birth. In situ hybridization histochemistry revealed the localization of specific synaptophysin mRNA in the neuroepithelium. However, immunocytochemistry failed to detect synaptophysin in the neuroepithelial cells. Following migration of the neuroblasts, synaptophysin was found in neurons concomitantly with the onset of fiber outgrowth. Thus, already at embryonic day 12, outgrowing fibers of the dorsal root sensory neurons and of motoneurons were synaptophysin positive. From embryonic day 14 throughout the prenatal period, strong synaptophysin immunoreactivity was seen in the ventrolateral and dorsal parts of the marginal layer. Most likely this staining pattern indicates transient functional synaptic contacts because, in the adult spinal cord, the corresponding region, the white matter, exhibited only faint synaptophysin immunoreactivity. In the intermediate layer of the embryonic spinal cord, which corresponds to the gray matter of the adult spinal cord, synaptophysin-positive fibers were observed prior to the formation of functional synapses. The latter are most likely permanent, since synaptophysin in the adult spinal cord is mainly confined to the gray matter. Our data (i) show transcription and translation of synaptophysin within the neurons of the spinal cord and correlate these processes with proliferation, migration, fiber outgrowth and the formation of transient or permanent synapses, and (ii) prove that synaptophysin is a marker for fiber outgrowth in addition to synapse formation.