Pervasive Synaptic Branch Removal in the Mammalian Neuromuscular System at Birth

Juan C. Tapia, John D. Wylie, Narayanan Kasthuri, Kenneth J. Hayworth, Richard Schalek, Daniel R. Berger, Cristina Guatimosim, Hyunjune Sebastian Seung, Jeff W. Lichtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Using light and serial electron microscopy, we show profound refinements in motor axonal branching and synaptic connectivity before and after birth. Embryonic axons become maximally connected just before birth when they innervate ∼10-fold more muscle fibers than in maturity. In some developing muscles, axons innervate almost every muscle fiber. At birth, each neuromuscular junction is coinnervated by approximately ten highly intermingled axons (versus one in adults). Extensive die off of terminal branches occurs during the first several postnatal days, leading to much sparser arbors that still span the same territory. Despite the extensive pruning, total axoplasm per neuron increases as axons elongate, thicken, and add more synaptic release sites on their remaining targets. Motor axons therefore initially establish weak connections with nearly all available postsynaptic targets but, beginning at birth, massively redistribute synaptic resources, concentrating many more synaptic sites on many fewer muscle fibers. Analogous changes in connectivity may occur in the CNS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)816-829
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 7 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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