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A confocal study of spinal interneurons in living larval zebrafish

Authors

  • Melina E. Hale,

    1. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5230
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  • Dale A. Ritter,

    1. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5230
    2. Department of Biology, Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio 44883
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  • Joseph R. Fetcho

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5230
    • Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Life Science Building, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5230
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Abstract

We used confocal microscopy to examine the morphology of spinal interneurons in living larval zebrafish with the aim of providing a morphological foundation for generating functional hypotheses. Interneurons were retrogradely labeled by injections of fluorescent dextrans into the spinal cord, and the three-dimensional morphology of living cells was reconstructed from confocal optical sections through the transparent fish. At least eight types of interneurons are present in the spinal cord of larval zebrafish; four of these are described here for the first time. The newly discovered cell types include classes of commissural neurons with axons that ascend, descend, and bifurcate in the contralateral spinal cord. Our reexamination of previously described cell types revealed functionally relevant features of their morphology, such as undescribed commissural axons, as well as the relationships between the trajectories of the axons of interneurons and the descending Mauthner axons. In addition to describing neurons, we surveyed their morphology at multiple positions along the spinal cord and found longitudinal changes in their distribution and sizes. For example, some cell types increase in size from rostral to caudal, whereas others decrease. Our observations lead to predictions of the roles of some of these interneurons in motor circuits. These predictions can be tested with the combination of functional imaging, single-cell ablation, and genetic approaches that make zebrafish a powerful model system for studying neuronal circuits. J. Comp. Neurol. 437:1–16, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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