During development, neurons form supernumerary synapses, most of which are selectively pruned leading to stereotyped patterns of innervation. During the development of skeletal muscle innervation, or its regeneration after nerve injury, each muscle fiber is transiently innervated by multiple motor axon branches but eventually by a single branch. The selective elimination of all but one branch is the result of competition between the converging arbors. It is thought that motor neurons initially innervate muscle fibers randomly, but that axon branches from the same neuron (sibling branches) do not converge to innervate the same muscle fiber. However, random innervation would result in many neonatal endplates that are co-innervated by sibling branches. To investigate whether this occurs we examined neonatal levator auris longus (LAL) and 4th deep lumbrical (4DL) muscles, as well as adult reinnervated deep lumbrical muscles (1?4) in transgenic mice expressing yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) as a reporter. We provide direct evidence of convergence of sibling neurites within single fluorescent motor units, both during development and during regeneration after nerve crush. The incidence of sibling neurite convergence was 40% lower in regeneration and at least 75% lower during development than expected by chance. Therefore, there must be a mechanism that decreases the probability of its occurrence. As sibling neurite convergence is not seen in normal adults, or at later timepoints in regeneration, synapse elimination must also remove convergent synaptic inputs derived from the same motor neuron. Mechanistic theories of synaptic competition should now accommodate this form of isoaxonal plasticity.
- neuromuscular junction