Regulation of motor neuron dendrite growth by NMDA receptor activation

R. G. Kalb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Spinal motor neurons undergo great changes in morphology, electrophysiology and molecular composition during development. Some of this maturation occurs postnatally when limbs are employed for locomotion, suggesting that neuronal activity may influence motor neuron development. To identify features of motor neurons that might be regulated by activity we first examined the structural development of the rat motor neuron cell body and dendritic tree labeled with cholera toxin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase. The motor neuron cell body and dendrites in the radial and rostrocaudal axes grew progressively over the first month of life. In contrast, the growth of the dendritic arbor/cell and number of dendritic branches was biphasic with overabundant growth followed by regression until the adult pattern was achieved. We next examined the influence of neurotransmission on the development of these motor neuron features. We found that antagonism of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptor inhibited cell body growth and dendritic branching in early postnatal life but had no effect on the maximal extent of dendrite growth in the radial and rostrocaudal axes. The effects of NMDA receptor antagonism on motor neurons and their dendrites was temporally restricted; all of our anatomic measures of dendrite structure were resistant to NMDA receptor antagonism in adults. These results suggest that the establishment of mature motor neuron dendritic architecture results in part from dendrite growth in response to afferent input during a sensitive period in early postnatal life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3063-3071
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1994


  • Activity-dependent development
  • Critical period
  • Dendrite
  • Motor neuron
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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