RESEARCH SUPPORT, U.S. GOV'T, NON-P.H.S.
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Zebrafish foxc1a drives appendage-specific neural circuit development.

Development 2015 Februrary 16
Neural connectivity between the spinal cord and paired appendages is key to the superior locomotion of tetrapods and aquatic vertebrates. In contrast to nerves that innervate axial muscles, those innervating appendages converge at a specialized structure, the plexus, where they topographically reorganize before navigating towards their muscle targets. Despite its importance for providing appendage mobility, the genetic program that drives nerve convergence at the plexus, as well as the functional role of this convergence, are not well understood. Here, we show that in zebrafish the transcription factor foxc1a is dispensable for trunk motor nerve guidance but is required to guide spinal nerves innervating the pectoral fins, equivalent to the tetrapod forelimbs. In foxc1a null mutants, instead of converging with other nerves at the plexus, pectoral fin nerves frequently bypass the plexus. We demonstrate that foxc1a expression in muscle cells delineating the nerve path between the spinal cord and the plexus region restores convergence at the plexus. By labeling individual fin nerves, we show that mutant nerves bypassing the plexus enter the fin at ectopic positions, yet innervate their designated target areas, suggesting that motor axons can select their appropriate fin target area independently of their migration through the plexus. Although foxc1a mutants display topographically correct fin innervation, mutant fin muscles exhibit a reduction in the levels of pre- and postsynaptic structures, concomitant with reduced pectoral fin function. Combined, our results reveal foxc1a as a key player in the development of connectivity between the spinal cord and paired appendages, which is crucial for appendage mobility.

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