Axonal guidance and the development of muscle fiber-specific innervation in Drosophila embryos

J. Johansen, M. E. Halpern, H. Keshishian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


The outgrowth of peripheral nerves and the development of muscle fiber-specific neuromuscular junctions were examined in Drosophila embryos using immunocytochemistry and computer-enhanced digital optical microscopy. We find that the pioneering of the peripheral nerves and the formation of the neuromuscular junctions occur through a precisely orchestrated sequence of stereotyped axonal trajectories, mediated by the selective growth cone choices of pioneer motoneurons. We have also examined the establishment of the embryonic muscle fibers and, using intracellular dye fills, have identified cells that are putative muscle pioneers. The muscle fibers of the bodywall have completed their morphogenesis prior to the initiation of synaptic contacts, and owing to the timing of neurite outgrowth from the CNS, synaptogenesis is synchronous at muscle fibers throughout the bodywall. At each muscle fiber the innervating axons make their initial contacts on a characteristic surface domain of the target cell's membrane. Through stereotyped growth cone-mediated trajectories the motoneurons actively establish the basic anatomical features of the mature neuromuscular junction, including the stereotyped, muscle fiber-specific branch anatomy. These events occur without significant process pruning or apparent synapse elimination. Our results suggest that the basic elements of the mature neuromuscular innervation, including the details of the ending trajectory on the target cell's surface, are formed by the precise navigation and presumed recognition by the motoneuron growth cones of muscle membrane surface features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4318-4332
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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