Structure of the embryonic primate spinal cord at the closure of the first reflex arc

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Early development of the spinal cord was studied in macaque monkey embryos, using light- and electron microscopy, Golgi impregnation and [3H]thymidine radioautography. All neurons engaged in the first reflex arc are generated before E27 in the 165 day gestation period. The earliest-generated cells differentiate into motoneurons while the commissural and association neurons are generated later. Synaptogenesis starts at E27 in the basal plate, and 2 days later in the alar plate. The first synapses appear as symmetrical junctions situated on the neuronal perikarya and proximal dendrites. Closure of the first spinal reflex arc is established within 2 days and follows an antidromic pattern as related to the physiological spread of nerve impulses: synapses on motoneuronal somata and primary dendrites in the basal plate appear first and are followed by synapses in the alar plate, between dorsal root axon collaterals and somata of borderline (commissural/association) neurons. Commissural axons grow towards the floor plate, cross the midline and proceed caudo-rostrally, while association fibers remain ipsilateral. The first wave of apoptosis (programmed cell death) thins out dense populations of nerve and glial cells by E30. Some of the early-generated borderine cells that form commissural and association interneurons, seem to play the role of transient target cells and die once the definitive axonal pathways are established. Since transient cells form numerous synapses, deprivation from the afferent impulses is not a likely cause of their elimination. The present results indicate that the initial developmental events, including formation of the first reflex arc in the primate spinal cord, occur considerably earlier in respect to birth than in other mammals, but that the schedule of cellular events and cellular mechanisms seem to be the same.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-540
Number of pages22
JournalAnatomy and Embryology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 1995


  • Cell death
  • Primate
  • Reflex arcs
  • Spinal cord
  • Synaptogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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