Central and peripheral innervation patterns of defined axial motor units in larval zebrafish

Saul Bello-Rojas, Ana E. Istrate, Sandeep Kishore, David L. McLean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Spinal motor neurons and the peripheral muscle fibers they innervate form discrete motor units that execute movements of varying force and speed. Subsets of spinal motor neurons also exhibit axon collaterals that influence motor output centrally. Here, we have used in vivo imaging to anatomically characterize the central and peripheral innervation patterns of axial motor units in larval zebrafish. Using early born “primary” motor neurons and their division of epaxial and hypaxial muscle into four distinct quadrants as a reference, we define three distinct types of later born “secondary” motor units. The largest is “m-type” units, which innervate deeper fast-twitch muscle fibers via medial nerves. Next in size are “ms-type” secondaries, which innervate superficial fast-twitch and slow fibers via medial and septal nerves, followed by “s-type” units, which exclusively innervate superficial slow muscle fibers via septal nerves. All types of secondaries innervate up to four axial quadrants. Central axon collaterals are found in subsets of primaries based on soma position and predominantly in secondary fast-twitch units (m, ms) with increasing likelihood based on number of quadrants innervated. Collaterals are labeled by synaptophysin-tagged fluorescent proteins, but not PSD95, consistent with their output function. Also, PSD95 dendrite labeling reveals that larger motor units receive more excitatory synaptic input. Collaterals are largely restricted to the neuropil, however, perisomatic connections are observed between motor units. These observations suggest that recurrent interactions are dominated by motor neurons recruited during stronger movements and set the stage for functional investigations of recurrent motor circuitry in larval zebrafish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2557-2572
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Oct 15 2019


  • RRID: Addgene_74314
  • RRID: Addgene_74316
  • axial muscle
  • motor neurons
  • motor units
  • recurrent circuits
  • spinal cord
  • zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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